Art and the Conscious Mind – Field Module 1 Reflection

I was really fortunate that a lot of the content throughout this project fed quite directly into my subject work. In Subject, I was considering the relationship we have with meaning and exploring how we look to find rationality even in disorder. In our initial lecture I found the discussions surrounding visual indeterminacy very helpful and taught me about new perspectives that I hadn’t previously considered. For example the role of the brain and perception, which was very interesting to consider, particularly the way malfunctions in the brain affect perception and how this teaches us about the relationship between sight and reality. Following this lecture, inspired by the work of Rob Pepperell, I began to experiment with the different ways people would make sense of the same set of formless marks. This experiment was also influenced by a workshop that took place as part of this project, the workshop delivered by Theo Humphries, was about surrealism and the use of surrealist games to explore consciousness/subconsciousness. I was interested in how this playful approach could be used to explore such an in depth and complex subject. I began to explore the way in which automatism could be used as a tool, and then following this, in the form of ‘squiggle games’, looked at our relationship with meaning by investigating our ability to create images or narratives from formless marks. Although there was no particular ‘final outcome’ that we were specifically asked to make in response to this module, I consider this ‘squiggle game’ experiment to be one of the main works that I created in response to these lectures and workshops. It was a piece that enabled me to consider the considerably unique ways in which people perceive. I gave the same set of marks to a group of people, and asked them to make sense of the marks (the marks were just automatic scribbles that I had generated), I then collected all of the drawings back up at the variety of images and narratives that were unfolding in the set of drawings. It was amazing to consider the results in relation to what I had learnt in the lectures and workshops – and was a really helpful experiment that helped me to see in  a practical way, the relationship between the conscious mind, perception and meaning. Below are a selection of photographs of the outcomes created in this experiment.

As well as this quite direct relationship between the  project and the content of my subject practice, I can recognise one workshop that has really influenced the way I think about my practice in a broader sense. A workshop delivered by Craig Thomas, about the interaction between the audience and the artwork – and the intention that the artist has for the audience, was incredibly influential in challenging my approach to producing art. Craig’s work (which we had the opportunity to participate in), was  focused on challenging the audience’s sense of self and was very intentional in this. I have since felt challenged to look a lot more intentionally at opening up more of a dialogue and relationship between my work and its audience.



Ephemeral Artworks

Whilst experimenting with ice and ink I have been considering the work of artists that also work with this notion of the ephemeral.

Andy Goldsworthy

Goldsworthy’s work is surrendered to environmental factors beyond his control. An interesting look at the contrast between an attempt to create and the futility of preserving the creation.

Anya Gallaccio

“A core aspect of her work is change and transformation. Both the ephemerality and site-specificity of all her work make it notoriously difficult to document. Gallaccio is careful to discard all the material related to an installation once it has closed and resists photographic documentation; in this sense her work is anti-monumental, unconcerned with a legacy outside the memories of those who witnessed it” –

Richard Long

Long’s work explores this trace of an activity and its impact on an area of land. The activity is evidenced by the marks it makes, yet both the activity and the marks are short lived.

Further experimentation with ice and ink

I have continued to experiment through the use of ice and ink. I am facing the challenge of thinking about how to document the existence of these pieces. I see them as quite sculptural in many ways, however they don’t exist this way for long and so although I find the actual process of watching the ice taking and directing the ink one of the strongest parts of this work – I’m not really able to show this directly. I’ve been continuing to photograph some further experiments with ice and ink. Aesthetically, I am pleased with how the use of photography captures the process – however the movement of the work is lost.

I am also really interested in this interplay between the ‘temporary’ and ‘permanent’ aspects of these works. And so I have begun to explore the marks that the ice and ink leaves on the surface it melts on. Both through the use of my intervention with the movement of the ice, and also allowing the sculptures to melt on their own.


Draw what you see

Interested in the way that we make sense of what we see, I have begun to explore interpretation and narrative application to random and formless sets of marks. I gave the same set of marks to a group of people to explore the different responses that would be generated.

I found it really interesting to see that similar themes and images began to emerge, and it became quite easy to group the drawings into different categories. I was also aware that as I returned to the original automated marks, I was consciously aware that I could see the images created by the participants of the exercise.

What I also found to be an unexpected, but really valuable element to the exercise, was the conversation that grew around it. At one particular time, I asked around 10 people to complete the exercise at the same time (my only rule was that they weren’t allowed to look at each other’s drawings – as I didn’t want the narratives to be influenced by others), after they had all created their images I found it really exciting to hear the reactions that people had to each others drawings. The participants began to look at one another’s drawings and were attempting to recognise how the other person found the images that they did.


Free Association

The work below makes use of the surrealist method of ‘free association’, developed by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Free association puts the emphasis on the artists’ unconscious mind as a tool for generating images without any preconceived planning. I am considering how this way of working can help me to explore this unlocking of narrative when direct points of reference are removed. I am also interested in the way the  images are developed from the marks initially put down, and the influence that they have on the formation of the images.

Surrealism and Automatism

Following the surrealism and play workshop in our field sessions, I wanted to do some further contextualisation. The workshop was helpfully related to the subject work that I am doing, and so was a brilliant opportunity to inform the surrealist experimentation that I am doing.

Link to workshop blog post:

In the Surrealist Manifesto, Breton defines surrealism as:

“Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern”

I am interested in surrealism, as a development on the theme that I highlighted at the start of this project, of ‘the removal of the notion of God or grand narrative’. The automatism embraced by surrealist artists “meant placing their trust in the creative power of a purely visual language” (Surrealism Movements In Modern Art By Fiona Bradley)
Surrealism attempts to remove a sense of logical order, embracing the use of the unconscious mind as a tool – distancing itself from a rational order or narrative through various playful techniques.

Automatic Drawing – used as a beginning for creative activity, to encourage spontaneity. Putting yourself in a receptive frame of mind.

Andre Masson

“André Masson began automatic drawings with no preconceived subject or composition in mind. Like a medium channeling a spirit, he let his pen travel rapidly across the paper without conscious control. He soon found hints of images—fragmented bodies and objects—emerging from the abstract, lacelike web of pen marks. At times Masson elaborated on these with conscious changes or additions, but he left the traces of the rapidly drawn ink mostly intact.”


Joan Miro 

“Miró balanced the kind of spontaneity and automatism encouraged by the Surrealists with meticulous planning and rendering to achieve finished works that, because of their precision, seemed plausibly representational despite their considerable level of abstraction.”


Away from ‘Forms and Frames’

The mark making pieces that I am making to explore the relationship between organic marks and controlled marks are beginning to become quite repetitive, and I feel aren’t able to reach far enough to explore the questions that are really interesting me in this project.

I am now looking to take the ‘automatic’ drawing approach away from the abstract marks, and instead look towards a surrealist exploration  of absurd, meaningless, illogical and nonsensical narrative, that can come from an unconscious and automatic approach to drawing.