At the the beginning of the course I expressed my interest in architectural glass on the basis that I had not really explored it fully as an undergraduate and felt that this was unfinished business. I also mentioned my interest in public-led art. So for my initial question I wondered if glass can be understood as a suitable material for public-engaged art..
I decided to use a live competition brief as a basis for this module. The Stevens Glass Prize is an annual architectural glass competition from The Worshipful Company of Glaziers & Painters of Glass. This year’s brief is to design and, if successful, fabricate two windows that will be situated within a dance studio at Eastbourne College. I looked at the works of architectural glass artists and I also researched contemporary dance as the space would be used primarily for this aspect of dance. This research led me to contemplate how my current research around dance interplays with the technical constraints and potential of architectural glass.
During my research into dance I looked extensively into using Labanotation which is a system of recording and analysing movement and gestures. I was also drawn to the the subcultural aspects of dance and that form of public engagement.
As a point of departure I felt it was necessary for me to identify other creative practitioners whose work I admire which is relevant to mine and examine their work.
Brian Clarke’s glass practice runs in parallel with his canvas paintings which in turn also inform his glass work. Mark Harrison’s (1994) essay noted that the paradox of glass art is that it is inextricably linked to architecture so therefore it is ignored in the art world who view architecture as commodity capitalism. Clarke combines both roles as painter and glass artist, without compromise. There is a symbiotic relationship with both disciplines running in parallel. Before the renaissance, art wasn’t anything other than applied art, yet critics seem to have a problem with the “craft” element of stained glass. Maybe the ecclesiastical links deter serious appraisal (Harrison, 1994, p. 6-7).
Fig. 1: Brian Clarke. Roof lights for Norte Shopping Centre, Rio de Janiero, Brazil, 1996.
Reading Harrison’s essay led me to the possibility of combining my creative practice as an attempt to unite the design discipline of architectural glass and my interest in conceptual contemporary arts practices. However tensions have become apparent between client-led design and how I want to use glass within a socially-engaged practice. Architectural glass is usually associated with commercial, commemorative or ecclesiastic public art. Also the research that I have undertaken, particularly in dance as well as my interest in subcultures, have highlighted my reservations regarding a singular architectural glass making practice. I revised the research question and asked if I can successfully diverge this research and so that the architectural glass practice could run parallel with a multi disciplinary contemporary arts practice.
Nick Crowe’s 2006 “Operation Telic” comprised a series of twelve hand engraved panels of 2mm float glass. The panels was presented in a darkened room and each was underlit with simple LED lights. This series is based on official photographs found on the MOD website. The original images presented show British forces “winning hearts and minds” in Iraq in 2003. Godehard Janzing (2007) noted that these original images are staged with the photographer at eye level. This visual strategy forces us to participate and “conceals a complex game with exchanged and inverted standpoints” (Janzing, 2007, pp. 17-18). Crowe has re-staged the digital imagery into something tangible, the underlighting highlights the green glow of the night-viewing device of a weapon (Janzing, 2007, pp, 21-22).
Fig. 2: Nick Crowe. Operation Telic, 2005-2006.
I also read a collection of essays about contemporary dance as this studio space will be used for this particular dance genre. Although dance is corporeal and performative, other aspects can also be investigated, for example music, rhythm and dance notation. However, I felt it was appropriate to also think about the social experience of dancing and its wider contexts.
Henri Lefebvre’s essay explored the nature of gestures or dressage. Lefebvre (1992) suggests that gestures are not innate and “these manners are acquired, are learned” (Lefebvre, 1992, p. 151). Something passes as natural when it conforms without effort to accepted models. To enter into a society or group is to accept its values, bend to its ways. Dressage is based on repetition to break-in people to perform a certain act (Lefebvre, 1992, pp. 151-152). Dance performances are the result of repetitive practices. Each individual dancer has to instinctively perform their gestures and also be aware of their position within the performance space. Whereas dance within the counter-public sphere may at first appear spontaneous, however subcultures tend to define what are accepted modes of dance expression.
Gesture is a common feature of the performance of rap music and breakdancing is a creative dance alternative to gang violence. Encoded gestural messages comment on other dancer’s perceived lack of skill. These “Battles” were conducted to usually settle disputes and allows a discursive basis of dance of the signifying tradition (joshing, banter) prevalent in African-American popular culture (Osumare, 2012, pp. 165-166).
The sub-cultural dimension of dance, which is performed mainly in the public domain, is beginning to inspire me to research this aspect from a sociological point of view. Visual artists have used the subject of dance sub-cultures as a source for their creative practice. For example Mark Lecky’s short film “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore” presents a surreal timeline of British nightlife culture. Also Jeremy Deller collaborated with the Williams Fairey Brass Band fusing Acid House music with the traditional sound of a colliery brass band. “Acid Brass” (1997) is a collaboration between these music-based communities.
Fig. 3: Jeremy Deller. History of the World, 1996.
I have been familiarising myself with Labanotation which is the accepted standardised form of notation used by choreographers. This system is not particularly intuitive and I have been investigating its possible use to record and present informal dance moves. I have subsumed subcultural references to my notation with the intention of presenting dance from the public domain. I am attracted to the potential of presenting publicly an intriguing interactive puzzle which engages and frustrates in equal measure.
I came across an interesting section regarding problems with CAD design. Before the advent of digital design, the tactile experience of creating artist’s impressions gives the designer a greater understanding of how the finished design will appear. Rendering each brick or window would increase familiarity especially in combination with regular site visits. Subsequent redrafts increase that familiarity. Using CAD creates a disconnection between the simulation created digitally and the tactile reality of drawing (Sennett, 2009). This observation I found particularly relevant. I visited the site and the space was still being built. Despite talking to the client as well as taking photographs, it was a struggle to clearly visualise the site as a finished space. In hindsight I should have visited at a later arranged date. For a client-led commissions I would have to liaise with the client and visit the site more than once. I am starting to question how I view myself as a practitioner. Am I a designer or am I an artist?
Evaluation of Body of Work
After my initial research I began to work on ideas through sketching and used labanotation as the basis. I was drawn to this notation as it is not immediately understood. This presents an enigmatic puzzle as the symbols have a runic and hieroglyphic quality. I also devised a decryption device to aid the viewer.
Fig. 4: Adele Retter. Decryption device pictogram, 2017-2018.
I researched the notation so that I could create a combination of gestures that would allude to subcultural references. Although notation can be open to interpretation, I nevertheless wanted to produce an accurate representation of these gestures. This is to ensure that when the riddle is solved, there is some kind of reward. I felt that it should at least make sense.
The gestures that I recorded were quite banal. One of the windows would refer to the derisory “big fish, little fish, cardboard box” description of ravers throwing shapes and the other will feature the semaphore arm gestures of “YMCA” from The Village People’s disco hit of the same title. I introduced perspective ito refer to the “Tomb Raider” computer game and Oskar Schlemmer’s geometric architectonic stage as a setting for a strategic abstract game (Birringer, 2013).
Fig. 5: Adele Retter: Preliminary sketches for “Big Fish…” and “YMCA”, 2017-2018.
However, after a period of time-consuming engagement with the tactile drawing process, I realised that this would be unsuitable for a dance studio at a boarding school. I was forced to acknowledge the perceived expectations of the client and this has forced me to compromise my original design. The subsequent design is purely a graphic assemblage of the symbols, although a neat clean solution is nonetheless a creative concession. I have made a design decision to present a more suitable outcome, yet the time invested with familiarising myself with the notation is a disappointing outcome. This final design is devoid of any context which frustrates me as an artist.
Fig. 6: Adele Retter. Cartoons of final designs, 2017-2018.
A lot of time was spent learning the system for presenting something deliberately facile and I also feel that working on two briefs has meant that I have been unable to dedicate fully to either. This failure of time management has created problems for me. This also hampered my research as I struggled to establish a coherent theoretical framework.
I now feel compelled to re-establish my direction on this course. It has become clear to me that the “unfinished business” of my architectural glass exploration probably should have remained unfinished as I now feel that this should have been confirmed prior to this module. Additionally there are many technical considerations of this discipline as well as the expected creative compromises. Glass is beautiful and this is what attracted me to it, yet my familiarity and persistence with this material has meant that usually only see glass as the final outcome.
Plans for Module 201
Originally I was planning to liaise with architectural glass fabricators Proto Studios with a view to observing their work practices and potentially making the finished windows. However, the research question has now evolved to reflect the re-evaluation of my research.
“How will my future research into dance, notation and subcultures be realised within the context of a socially-engaged contemporary arts practice?”.
I have always tried to frame my work conceptually where the idea has as much importance as the final outcome. I believe this approach can be fully realised within a multi-disciplinary contemporary art context. The research that I have undertaken about dance confirms my belief that this is the direction that I will want to take forward.
However I still want to explore glass but within the context of a counter-public sphere. Grant Kestor’s essays “The Sound of Breaking Glass” would be an interesting starting point to examine how subcultures use glass as a canvas for their expressions of identity and to challenge dominant hegemonies. I would also like to attend this year’s Social Making conference. The last conference was very interesting and I feel that now I will have a better understanding of my own intentions regarding my socially-engaged practice.
The research I have undertaken has inspired me to look further into dance in the public domain, particularly the subcultural aspects. The performative nature of dance and the dancer’s agency can be investigated. Which would lead me to ask for example is it competitive one-upmanship? Is it about the identity of the individual representing a particular subculture? Is being “lost in music” a transcendental state?
I want to present a body of work for the Plymouth Art Weekender. The body of work would be a collection of visual artifacts that I have produced to reflect the research I have done. Or alternatively an installation around the theme of dance, music and subcultures.
Appendix 1 – Bibliography
Harrison, M. (1994). Eloquence from intractability. In: Brian Clarke Architectural Artist . Academy Editions, pp.6-7.
Janzing G. (2007). This is Propaganda. In: Huffman K, ed., Nick Crowe: Commemorative Glass, pp. 17-23. Manchester: Cornerhouse.
Lefebvre, H. (2012). Dressage//1992. In: A. Lepecki, ed., Dance Documents of Contemporary Art , 1st ed. London, Cambridge: Whitechapel Gallery, MIT Press, pp.151-152.
Osumare, H. (2012). Global Breakdancing and the Intercultural Body//2002. In: A. Lepecki, ed., Dance Documents of Contemporary Art , 1st ed. London, Cambridge: Whitechapel Gallery, MIT Press, pp.165-166.
Sennett, R. (2009). The craftsman . London: Penguin Books.
Birringer, J. (2013). Bauhaus, Constructivism, Performance. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art , pp.39-52.
Appendix 2 – Further Reading
Clarke B. (1994). Drawing on Architecture. In: Brian Clarke Architectural Artist, pp.18-19. Academy Editions,
Powell K. (1994). Architectural Artist. In: Brian Clarke Architectural Artist, pp.12-17. Academy Editions,
Van Imschoot, M. (2012). Rest in Pieces: Scores, Notation, and the Trance in Dance//2005. In: A. Lepecki, ed., Dance – Documents of Contemporary Art , 1st ed. London, Cambridge: Whitechapel Gallery, MIT Press, pp.216-217.
Pye D. (1968). The workmanship of risk and the workmanship of certainty. In: The Nature and Art of Workmanship , pp. 20-37, Bloomsbury Publishing.
Finlay A. (2002). Labanotation: The Archie Gemmill Goal. Edinburgh: Morning Star Publications. Kandinsky W. (1947). Point and Line to Plane . New York: The Soloman R. Guggenheim Foundation. Gropius W, ed. (1961). The Theater of the Bauhaus . Middleton: Wesleyan University Press.
Kipling Brown A. (2008). Labanotation for Beginners. Alton: Dance Books Ltd.
Hutchinson Guest A. (2005). Labanotation: The System for Analysing and Recording Movement. New York: Routledge.
Bowlt J. (2014), Russian Avant-Garde Theatre: War, Revolution & Design, pp. 263-294 . London: Nick Hern Books Ltd.
Davies P. ((2007). Glass North East, pp. 56-90 . Sunderland: Art Editions North.
Appendix 2 – List of Images
Fig. 1: Rooflights for Norte Shopping Centre, Rio de Janiero, Brazil, 1996. Available From: http://www.brianclarke.co.uk/work/works/item/133/5 [Accessed on 27th March 2018, at 15:45].
Fig. 2: Nick Crowe. Operation Telic, 2005-2006. Available from: http://www.nickcrowe.net/online/operationtelic/operationtelic.html [Accessed on 27th March 2018, at 16:08]
Fig. 3: Jeremy Deller. History of the World, 1996. Available form : http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/deller-the-history-of-the-world-p78412 [Accessed on 27th March 2018, at 16:21]
Fig. 4: Adele Retter. Decryption device pictogram, 2017-2018. Available from: http://adeleretterglass.co.uk/2018/01/my-creative-process-sketchbook/ [Access on 27th March 2018, at 16:33]
Fig. 5: Adele Retter: Preliminary sketches for “Big Fish…” and “YMCA”, 2017-2018. Available from: http://adeleretterglass.co.uk/2018/01/my-creative-process-sketchbook/ [Accessed on 27th March 2018, at 16:38]
Fig. 6: Adele Retter. Cartoons of final designs, 2017-2018. Available from: http://adeleretterglass.co.uk/2018/02/final-design/ [Accessed on 27th March 2018, at 16:49]