Reflections on 30 Artists

Alejandro Cesarco

I first came across Alejandro Cesarco’s work via his beautiful film, Present Memory, in which he displayed the same moving image portrait of his father on three different levels of the Tate Modern to create a strange sense of déjà vu for the viewer. It is this strange sense of a fragmented and incomplete narrative, or memory, that I enjoy in his text works, especially these footnote ones. I am most drawn to traces of where the human presence has interfered and revealed its imperfections; where a word has been replaced by another, or where it might have been misspelled. Mistakes, errors, over sentimentality. I find footnotes endlessly fascinating, mostly to understand that the text is not a whole thing in and of itself, but is always situated in context, in the context of other texts; other writers’ stories; memories; titbits; experiences. I want to know where human presence interjects and ruins the white page.

Catherine Bertola

I was researching for my dissertation on the ‘artist as political subject’ and the Liverpool exhibition Further Up in the Air when I came across Bertola’s wonderfully subtle site-specific installations, using the detritus and discarded elements of the building, such as dust or peeling wallpaper. I love this piece, but what I love across all her work is the idea that art doesn’t have to require lots of tools and equipment and materials and studio – it is something intuitive and deeply personal and not dependent on these other things. I think I am mostly drawn to her work because that is how patterns started for me – drawing to keep my mind steady whilst I waited for a talk to start – and all I needed was a notebook and pen. Bertola’s work similarly comes out of the artist, not the art materials, and I find that powerful.

Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt)

I am drawn to Gego’s work because of the way that she deals with the imperfect grid. Grids become fascinating to me at the moment of disruption – where one line becomes squint, or a corner where two lines don’t quite meet. I love this work of Gego’s because it reminds me of a broken fence with a hole in it. Intended to be infallible, yet it becomes distorted. The grid is at once both sacred and secular; the idea of it is a symbol for purity and perfection, but in reality, is mundane, broken, commonplace. Gego’s compositions really deal with this contradiction for me. Their pristine white background and their simplicity alludes to the aim for purity, but her constant distortion and disruptions allow an admittance of this impossibility.

Prabhavathi Meppayil

I first came across Meppayil’s work earlier this year. It was drawn to it because the way that it dealt with being on the edge of nothingness reminded me of a passage that I had just read in de Beauvoir’s ‘She Came to Stay’

“Before Françoise’s very eyes, and yet apart from her, something existed like a sentence without an appeal: detached, absolute, unalterable, an alien conscience was taking up its position. It was like death, a total negation, an eternal absence, and yet, by a staggering contradiction, this abyss of nothingness could make itself fully present to itself and make itself fully exist for itself. The entire universe was engulfed in it, and Françoise, for ever excluded from the world, was herself dissolved in this void, of which the infinite contour no word, no image could express.”

Jacob El Hanani

I came across Jacob El Hanani’s work in January 2020 during a moment that I’ll never quite forget. After I finished my semester abroad in Vancouver I decided to travel back home through various stop points in North America. My last one was New York, before I got on a plane back to Aberdeen. My this point I had pretty much run out of friends and travel companions, I was exhausted, and all my clothes were disgusting, having not had the time to wash them anywhere. I spent four days in New York, and visited five galleries – one of these was the Guggenheim. When I entered, I decided to start at the top of the spiral and work my way down and it just so happened that the exhibition room right at the top of the spiral was Marking Time: Process in Minimal Abstraction.

There was an Agnes Martin painting, an artist with whom I’d recently fallen deeply in love with, alongside so many beautiful time-based, minimal works – the most captivating for me of which was Jacob El Hanani. I must have spent several hours in that room with those intricate, humming pieces, and taking out my own sketchbook to meditate by making similarly little marks that would eventually fill the page. 

Jacob El Hanani was born in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1947 and grew up in Israel. His work draws upon the tradition of micrography in Judaism, a technique utilized in decoration and transcribing holy texts. El Hanani creates highly intricate works through the painstaking repetition of minuscule marks, often Hebrew letters repeated thousands of times using ink on paper or canvas.

The repetition represents a prayer, or Tehilim. Tehilim refers to a collection of 150 Psalms that express thanks, beseech, praise, love, and fear, for God. He draws these images without magnification; in order to reduce eye strain, he rests every ten minutes. The end result is a work of extraordinary detail that appears to be a pattern from a distance and speaks of the passage of time and the link between the microscopic and the infinite. 

I have been heavily influenced by his work since, particularly by this technique in which the process of art becomes something almost spiritual and important for more reason than the marks on the page. I have been thinking a lot recently about how concepts of God and prayer exist in so many more forms than they do just inside the church, and El Hanani has been instrumental in helping develop this understanding.

Roman Opalka

Another artist that I encountered in this exhibition ‘Marking Time: Process in Minimal Abstraction‘ was Roman Opalka. 

Opalka spent 46 years of his life painting a chronological sequence of numbers over 222 canvases, reaching the number 5,607,249 before he died. He started with the number 1 in 196 5, and he would dip his paint in white ink and paint the numbers until it ran out, which is what creates the effect of flux and depth in his work.

The idea of having a task to work through is what draws me most to Opalka’s work; not caring ultimately what the piece looks like, but the way it is made taking centre point. Thinking about how things are made is a much more powerful and emotional tool for understanding art with. His dedication to his work takes on the quality of a monk, much like El Hanani. Seeing this work, understanding art in this way, has moved my work much further away from the aesthetic for me.

Sophie Calle

Sophie Calle is an artist whose work I first came across in second year at Glasgow School of Art. I was really interested in Time at that point, as I still am, but I hadn’t yet figured out how to properly let go of traditional observational painting and so I was all in a muddle. I find myself returning to the same themes now, but with a lot less complications, and so recently I have gone back to Calle’ s work, which two years ago felt too conceptual for me to access properly. I am really drawn to this series in which she found herself a job as a hotel maid and would then photograph and document people’s possessions and their unmade beds and write extensive descriptions. I am drawn mostly to Calle’s fascination with the mundane and her methodical and meticulous recording of everyday routines. In another work of hers, she hired a private investigator to follow her around and record her movements and habits. I have begun a lot of research into the archive, and Calle’s archivisation of the mundane self is fascinating to me.

Zarina

Zarina is an Indian American artist whose work I also came across at the Guggenheim’s ‘Marking Time’ exhibition. I want to feature an extract from an interview with one of the museum assistants about her work that was on show there. 

How did Zarina make Untitled? 

She began by gluing two sheets of paper together with wheat starch paste to make them a little stiffer and then traced out a faint grid pattern on the back, in graphite. Sometimes she would use graph paper, instead, and lay that over the back. Next, she used various needles, some quite large, to puncture the paper through the back, sometimes following and sometimes diverting from the initial grid or graph paper. She worked with the paper laying over a sheet of Styrofoam to provide just the right amount of resistance to produce a more pronounced puncture without it getting flattened. In this way, she varied the quality of the punctures-some large, some small-and imparted a pronounced surface pattern in an otherwise white sheet of paper. 

How did she choose the type of paper for this piece? 

Like many who are interested in printmaking, Zarina collects paper-she has drawers and boxes full of different papers. Zarina has talked a lot about her fascination with paper, equating it to skin. It has similar qualities. It ages. For this work, she used a classic printmaking paper called Rives BFK, a popular French mould-made wove paper. It is often prized for its rich and velvety-smooth surface texture that eloquently reflects light.

What do you find most fascinating about Untitled? 

When you approach these drawings, you see this blank slate from a distance. As you get closer to them, or as you move from left to right, they change. You see something different in them that you didn’t originally see as the pinholes catch shadows and come into focus. These pieces are hard to photograph because they become very two-dimensional. In person, they’re constantly changing. You have these seemingly white slates, and as you get closer, you realize there are patterns. They’re essentially drawings that are made of shadow -caught in the interstices of each fine hole. When fit properly in the gallery, the shadows can register as drawing ink.

Often, you’re bombarded with so much in an art museum. It’s hard to have an intimate moment with a work of art. And these pin drawings sort of require that. They’re Minimalist white objects that you can easily miss. To me, what’s always interesting is this multifaceted way they can engage you. But you have to take a moment and move closer. 

The piece I included previously is not Untitled, large because it is so difficult to photograph. But Zarina, who sadly passed away last year, works in such a way that reminds me of an archive, which I am really drawn to which is why I included that work specifically.

Zarina’s whole body of work is really inspiring to me. She works in such a beautifully quiet and minimal way. Her prints are so simple and yet so powerful at the same time. I think what I am most drawn to about her work is how it all works together in a set. As I was fairly limited in scale last year, working from home with little energy, I began thinking more about my work as series, rather than individual pieces. Zarina does this very well. Her pieces need each other, or at least their sense becomes stronger as they multiply. I love the way that she is able to do so much with so little colour, so little lines, and such simple compositions.

Tehching Hsieh

Tehching Hsieh’s works, especially Time Clock Piece (One Year Performance 1980-1981), which involved punching a time clock every hour for a year, demonstrate acts of extreme commitment and pushing his physical and mental capabilities to the limits. It’s a concept I begin to grapple with more and more as my art became increasingly entangled with my day-to-day activities (especially as I started to make it in my living room). I always said that I didn’t want to be Gilbert and George, and that I wanted to separate my art from everything else. Hsieh provides a more nuanced approach to this debate in that his art, to some extent, becomes his life, and yet it is only the acts that he designates – i.e., the hole punch – that is the art, rather than the stuff that surrounds it.

Dora Mauer

Timing (1973-1980)

The film starts with an image of a white, rectangular cloth with creases visible where it has been folded. In the following sequences the cloth is shown being folded – at first only once, before being unfolded and shown at full size again. Successive shots repeat this action, adding an additional fold and then returning to the open position before adding yet another fold, until the cloth cannot be folded further. Each movement has the same duration. This sequence of seven folds is then repeated in numerous different takes, filmed using a camera masking technique, where alternating portions of the film stock are exposed. The resulting image is a composite of multiple performances of the activity, inevitably unsynchronised in their timings despite their attempt at uniformity. Appearing to divide the frame into two, then four and then eight parts, the composite image mirrors the act of folding. As the cloth is folded, it unveils the presence of the artist, who is holding it. Her black silhouette is almost invisible, and it is only her palms which mark her participation in the event.

Dieter Roth

I like these works by Dieter Roth particularly because they are in book form. There is something interesting to me about the way that the books have a theme of pattern, and each page shows a slightly different iteration. I think that seeing the grid, or the pattern, in context of the book does something intangible and captivating. Rather than, say, an Agnes Martin, who presents the grid as the whole and complete thing, these books place it in the context of a diary – something variable, continuing, ongoing, never finished.

Lee Lozano

My favourite thing about Lee Lozano’s notebooks is that they’ re reproduced like postcards. You can buy them for about £20 – not images of the pages in another book but a reproduction of the thing itself. For something so personal, and so intimate, not to be mediated by a variation in font, surface or context is something that I find really moving. I am becoming more and more interested in the archive, the ephemera that makes up an artist thinking process rather than the finished piece itself, but I think that began with the Lee Lozano show at the Fruitmarket in 2018. I was initially put off my her big, sexually charged painting downstairs. They felt too crass, too uncomfortable for me at the time. But they began to make more sense as I looked through the notebooks upstairs.

Richard McVetis

I included this bio from McVetis in my last submission and its really stuck with me: 

The mapping of space and marking Time and form are central themes. Using a range of media, McVetis explores how Time and place, experienced and constructed. Ideas are often developed in response to or created specifically to a moment, visualising, and making this a tactile and tangible object. Drawing as an act is what occurs in everything that he does. Drawing as a dialogue; a process that goes beyond the flat surface and into the space around.

McVetis’ practice is deeply rooted in process and hand embroidery. He records Time and space through multiples of dots, lines, and crosses. These meticulously rendered stitches reflect a preoccupation with the repetitive nature, exploring the subtle differences that emerge through ritualistic and habitual making. The inscribed stitches mark the hand’s rhythms, a delicate performance of obsessive intricacy, refinement, and physical activity. They record human presence, Time and decay, each stitch acting as a marker for lived Time, an embodiment of thought and patience. There is intimacy in this labour­intensive way of making; the ritual and repetition create an in-depth focus and an internal Space-Time specific to the artist. The process of execution is just as, if not more, necessary.

Recent explorations of the cube and grid format are an attempt to organise, control and rationalise the infiniteness of Time. Structures, motifs, and patterns reference the urban landscape; they introduce the idea of Time as architecture, how our lives are built and housed in a construct of Time. McVetis is interested in how process, specifically stitch, can reveal a world seen from within and from a scale that can tell us much more about ourselves, our trajectories in space, and the transitory relationship to the world build around us.

I was initially drawn to his practice for the obvious ties to grids, textiles and embroidery. In all honesty, I suppose there was some narcissism in it – it feels validating to see someone working with similar visual language to you, especially as he’s so successful. It feels reassuring to recognise yourself in an established artist’s work. But the more I have delved into his practice, the more I have found; I have begun experimenting more with the idea of maps and scatter graphs after his London series, and I think most of all, what I have taken from his work is the presence of empty space and how this becomes just as powerful as where the stitches are. It’s not a new concept and has been present throughout the entire art historical canon, but to see how the lack of presence – communicated through marks – is used in a similar aesthetic to my work has been really important in my work.

Cornelia Parker

This work, Measuring Niagara with a Teaspoon (1997), mostly interests me because of the title and ideas of artistic licence and lying. The implication from the title is that we are supposed to believe that the length of wound string equals the same height of Niagara Falls, but such a measurement is hard to conceive, and the two materials are so different it’s hard to tell. I’m interested in the situation created in which we must place our trust in the artist that they are telling the truth. As I am working a lot now with data, statistics and logs, and when sometimes I forget to fill a day out, instead of skipping that day I have a bad tendency to just make it up. As it’s buried in amongst real statistics, it doesn’t jump out like a sore thumb, but living alone in a pandemic makes me reflect on the idea that I could fabricate all the productivity of my days and nobody would be any the wiser.

Vija Celmins

I adore Vija Celmins for an acceptance of slowness. I used to believe that the more you made, the better an artist you were. I remember watching a documentary in second year about Time that she featured in, and I didn’t think much of her work because I believed being creative had to be messy and exciting and passionate. A lot of my work this year comes back to revisiting artists that I dismissed in second year during my investigation of ‘time’ – those artists that I now love. I saw a Celmins retrospective at The Met Breuer in January 2020 and it was an incredibly spiritual experience. After months of reflection, I realised that that was the kind of art I wanted to make – slow, deliberate, meditative. I suppose I wanted time to think as I worked. I love these constellation pieces especially because in the context of my own work, they become more than stars – they become scraps of paper, dust, detritus – infinitely large and infinitely tiny.

Susie Wilson

I’ve been working a lot recently with the artist’s book and the archive, and I’ve become really interested in Susie Wilson’s practice during this investigation. I think that the main reason I really enjoy her work is that she looks at artwork as a collection or body – with small and large pieces, instruments, all informing each other. The intimacy of holding the book, each page hiding then revealing the next, creates an atmosphere that is deeply personal. I am interested in this sense of revelation. Layers of translucent paper, stitched and cut into, obscure the forms and images creating a tension between the various areas reflecting the delicacy, fragility, and subtlety of the subject.

Miriam Mallalieu

In my thinking about the ‘archival turn’ and drawing on Foucault and Derrida as well as publications from Cheryl Simon and Sara Callahan, Mallalieu presents a new perspective on these ideas. A lot of art that is situated within the archival simply presents object as archive, as artwork. Mallalieu’s work, however, marks the shift more concretely. By translating the forms using scanning, photography, printmaking and book binding, the turn in archival turn feels more present in her work.

Richard Long

I distinctly remember learning about Richard Long, as well as Andy Goldsworthy, in the art history part of my foundation course. I became really frustrated because I didn’t really understand how you could sell the idea of a walk, or some lines drawn in the sand. This was before I realised artists didn’t make any money anyway through their work, no matter how physical it was. I have returned to Richard Long recently, in thinking about documentation of processes and of the body – in particular looking at very factual statements that tell you nothing of the emotional experience, but instead let it be. I don’t know if can describe why I like it, or what has changed in me. I am drawn to these works in an indescribable way.

Carolee Schneemann

This work is titled Up to and Including her Limits (1973-76). In it, Schneemann makes marks across a canvas laid across the floor, á la Pollock, but in this reworking, her movements are restricted by a harness to which she is attached, rather than free and loose like Pollock. She makes big statements about restraint, feminism, freedom, limitations in this piece and discusses huge topics. But I love this piece because of the way it talks about the small, the local, the body. What are the limitations of our bodies, and specifically, how does this relate to art? Art is not as free as it appears, but is determined and withheld by our circumstances. Canvas size ultimately determined by wall space; that in turn is determined by what you can afford; or how much energy you have, and so it continues. The artist’s conditions determine the work.

Sol Lewitt

I have this great plan to make a Sol Lewitt mural on my wall. I’m not sure if I will manage, but I just quite like the concept that I could ‘have’ a Sol Lewitt without paying £££££££, given that he was one of the most important 60s New York artists (my favourite period in art history). I also quite like the fact that I can at once be making it and also connected to the canon. I am inspired by his connection between these two, almost as isolated incidents. The image informs the text, and vice versa, but they are not one and the same. I also really like the idea of instruction – I first came to this dilemma in Canada when I got stuck and felt like I had ‘run out’ of things to paint, but I still wanted to paint.

Hanne Darboven

I find Hanne Darboven’s work interesting, but it’s difficult to get a lot of background knowledge as a lot of the interviews are in her native German. I’ve always really liked maths, and I’m interested in the way that she applies it to her work, although I’m still struggling to grasp how exactly she does it. I’ve started to approach her mathematical method more as a way of thinking, rather than as a definite set of numbers or processes. I’m trying to remember what doing maths was like, and I return to ideas of problem solving, of trying out, crossing out, showing your working. I remember about maths that we would understand the basic premise and follow the pattern through, making allowances for variables.

Kathy Slade

She trumps the D.I. Y. rulebook by using machine production to create her “handcrafted” embroidered tab chords, producing friction between masculine and feminine social norms and art-historical cliches (think Judd’s “manly” fabrications versus Eva Hesse’s “womanly” constructions, for example). Basic guitar tablature or tab is a simplified pictorial representation of guitar chords. It is utilitarian, a useful didactic device for musical self-learning. With access to one of these archives or a tab chord book, a record collection, time, and practice, most everybody is able to learn at least elementary guitar, probably more.

Robert Irwin

I remember going to Canada and saying to my painting tutor (a very patient woman who had to continuously deal with me declaring that I was done with painting, only to go on and paint) that I was really interested in the way that we perceive things, to which she responded that I should read Lawrence Weschler’s book on Robert Irwin: ‘Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of The Thing One Sees’. I had it out from the library for the whole semester and bought it when I came home. It became my bible. I can’t really include pictures of Irwin’s work or talk about how his visual elements influence me, because they rest on their not-being. I am more inspired by Irwin’s trajectory, by his systematic dismantling of the visual work over his life and the idea that if you try and find the answer to art, or the pure art form, it will disappear, and so you must accept a point at which you’re happy, and not try to ‘solve’ art.

In that way, if art was maths, the answer would always be 0. You have to leave the equation as it is at some point and declare that the answer. I think different artists have different stop points. To make a painting or a traditional sculpture is quite an early stop point – leaving the equation as quite technical looking, with lots of symbols and technique. What Duchamp did was to rest the equation just before completion; just before it disintegrated into 0. It’s been helpful for me to understand and approach art in this way – to assess how much each artist has pushed art towards that point where it becomes so pure it turns back into life. This idea has implications when dealing with participatory art, which arguably does turn back into life, but that’s a bigger topic for another year.

Yayoi Kusama

I am inspired by Kusama because of her use of a lifelong motif. She used the dots throughout her life, they informed her work, and are dependent on her circumstances. Now that she is older, she paints these beautiful canvases, much smaller because of her physical limitations, but still featuring her ever present dots. I am drawn to the idea that an artist can have one small, simple symbol that informs and inspires them throughout their life, and changes based on where they’re at. Kusama also inspires me on a more personal level because of her commitment to keeping herself healthy to work. I take great issue with the idea that artists must be living on the edge of their mental problems to thrive – Kusama turns this on its head by deliberately making sure she is looked after and healthy as a precursor to working.

Margaret Salmon

Housework (2014) 

In Housework, Margaret Salmon captures the uncanny, beautiful and at times hysterical moments in an alternative domestic cosmos. Highlighting the current state of female domestic roles as well as the status of women in larger society and referencing techniques from screen classics as varied as Hans Richter’s Ghosts Before Breakfast, and Mary Poppins, amongst others. Salmon’s film portrays daily household chores being completed by themselves, without human interaction, as supernatural phenomenon. 

I’ve become really interested recently in the mundane, the boring, the tedious – the tasks that allow us to then make the creative work. I can’t work in a messy home. The men in Daily Rituals have more time because they don’t do the laundry.

Eva Hesse

I always enjoyed Eva Hesse, but as I wasn’t so interested in sculpture, she never really found her way into my research. I came across these drawings by accident, but I think that they’re beautiful. More recently, I’ve been really drawn to circles, and investigating this drawing has offered me the chance to really reflect on why. As I’ve been delving into the grid over the last few years, I’ve really been investigating harmony and the disruption of harmony. The circle is a very harmonious form, like the grid is, but there is one main difference for me. The way that I draw the grid is expansive – I start with a zig zag line and it can grow indefinitely from there. The circle is necessarily pre-determined and cannot be expanded. I also am just really interested in the drawing because of resistance to harmony due to the way that the circles rendering is incomplete.

Helen Mira

Textile art is something that I never thought I would do, but I’ve really enjoyed investigating it and leaning into it this year. I am currently reading Fray: Art and Textile Politics by Julia Bryan – Wilson, and in it she includes this quote from Stephen Knott that summarises my interest: 

Amateur craft is inherently dependent on the routines of everyday life … the division of labour, entrepreneurship, the adulation of productivity, and the accumulation of capital. Yet it simultaneously constitutes a spatial temporal zone in which these structures can be stretched, quietly subverted, and exaggerated.

On Kawara

I think I came across On Kawara’s work around the same time as Teching Hsieh, and I encountered a similar phenomenon in which I was really drawn to the ideas of the work and they really resonated with me, but at the time it felt too conceptual, and I couldn’t really find my own way into it. For whatever reason, I have begun to find a lot more peace and contentment in repetitive tasks and have slowly started to move away from the idea that art making is pure creativity and instead realise that a lot of it is just labour. To do that, I have begun to isolate ideas of labour, and for me, a huge part of that has been Kawara’s work. His ideas are so simple, but they allow the time and labour to exist in singularity, no longer impeded by external aesthetic decisions.

Richard Wright

The installation that I created last year at the Glue Factory was massively informed by Wright’s work, in particular the way that he uses repetitive patterns to draw attention to architectural spaces. Returning to his work has been an interesting reflection on the conditions of this year. Wright’s installations are most effective in huge, expansive, empty rooms where the works can be used to pull the eye to little corners that may otherwise have been missed. That doesn’t really work so well in small, intimate, familiar spaces. You don’t need to be drawn to surprising spaces when you are staring at them all the time. So I have thought a lot more about Wright’s process of making – that meditative task that allows you to become inti mate with a surface – and how that might be translated to fabric or paper.

Robert Morris

Working on a typewriter last semester, creating little typed out cards, has largely been informed by this Robert Morris piece, as well as Lucy Lippard 1 s card exhibitions. There is not really any universe in which I would refer to Robert Morris as a feminist artist, but he’s led me towards feminist reflections within my own work. As I create these little typed out cards of data – not even creative writing, or any form of creativity really – and then spend hours scanning them in and turning them into PDFs, I feel a bit like a secretary to my other self as an artist, and there is a playing out a role of a more oppressed woman. What I think is brilliant about Robert Morris, and his other contemporaries of the 60s and 70s in New York is the way that their work pointed to labour – whether their own, or paid labour of other skilled workers. Art moved away from a mystical vocation and was instead presented, equal to other jobs, as work.