derive (pronounced as the french, duh-reeve) to wander hopefully

ooh, that alone was worth going to the course for!

chris lewis-jones took us (a mixed group of nine students) to the outside of nottingham contemporary and led us in what i would call a five sense grounding exercise, which is apparently (this is where i insert the warning that all mistakes are my own!) a core approach of psychogeography :  to focus on context, literally, how the gallery sits in the landscape through to what we brought with us. Baudelaire was the first of the flaneurs, to choose (then a radical refusal of privilege) to walk through a city to experience the urban environment directly, waste products and all (before Bazalgette and city sewage systems, a truly bold step 🙂 ) Guy Debord and Ivan Chtcheglov (pronounced chiglev) of the Situationists made being aware of the effect of the urban environment a key part of their practice. later british artists such as Richard Long, Will Self and Hamish Fulton brought breadth to this by including rural and wild landscapes.

we heard: traffic, cars on cobbles, the rush of the dual carriageway/a tram/ wind in the trees still heavy with whispery green leaves and wind in the tunnel of the buildings/ people, their footsteps hurrying or strolling, chattering among themselves, arguing on their mobiles/ a generator and building works

we didn’t hear our own breath, birdsong, our heartbeats or any other animals, any music

we saw: some 20 types of bricks and facing stones, york paving stones, cobbles, architecture from at least four centuries, some buddleias (no butterflies), the nottingham contemporary sign reflected in the big glass window by the door, the light bouncing off the metal so it looks lit up in the reflection and easy to read – because it is mirror imaged on the wall!  which is the inside/outside , real/unreal, important/trivial?… some boarded up and unused buildings, some professional businesses, eg legal practices

we didn’t see many signs of the lace trade that gives lace market its name, the lace in the concrete of the contemporary is the most noticeable, very little organic material and no signs of everyday living, no corner shops or market stalls, only the monument of the weekday cross where the market was, no sign of the surge of  urban regeneration the building of  the contemporary was supposed to trigger (not its fault btw, blame the b-ankers)

we felt: a crisp autumnal breeze, light drops of rain, cold….!

and went in!

obviously there was a lot more and, one of the main points of attuning like this, the realisation of how unique each person’s experience is. different people live different lives, notice different things because of their experiences, their abilities, their moods and dispositions, each day might be different, each minute. so when the Modernists thought there was a single true experience of a work of art, they were coming from a viewpoint built up over a thousand years, known affectionately by feminists like me as DWEM (Dead White European Male) which did include American WASPS (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) but very few other people! a tiny percentage of the world population anyway…

the single viewpoint of Modernism (think Clement Greenberg) now looks unthinkably narrow, so well done the post modernists for that. if not much else (i say from the corner of my mouth…;) maybe this course will educate me on their other achievements, but they should have brought in a radical shift in accessibility, but somehow opted to be bewilderingly obscure. luckily things have moved on and now we are to look at


as coined by Nicolas Bourriauld in 2005 and his exhibition at Tate Britain in  2009. this asks artists to reconcile the single voice of Modernism with the pluralist relativism of post modernism, to bring forward an individual response/proposition in a global market, to be one voice among an acknowledged many. there seems to be a flavour of  individual versus mass marketed too, oh goody, someone let some politics creep back in 😉

by the time we’d absorbed all this, we were ready to be plunged into the work of  Alfred Kubin  because we needed some light relief. oh, my mistake, it was time to be treated to nightmare visions of a troubled soul who was brilliantly skilled at sharing those symbolist horrors…;) most of us found it very dark but not all, and the technical prowess of the guy is beyond doubt. on returning to the studio we were invited to make a group response to what we had experienced, the exhibition, the course, any or all of it. in 10 minutes! eek! and with NO NEEDLES…have you ever tried attaching lace at speed to corrugated cardboard by poking holes with wire and pushing string through…it was a lot of fun making one piece out of four people’s varying responses and i got permission to show what WE hung in nottingham contemporary today 😉

the pipe cleaners/ribbons and string are the nine students and one tutor making their way to the course, experiencing the building/ course/ structures of ideas/ exhibition of work (the lace and the cardboard frames) and visiting the Alfred Kubin exhibition (black crepe/ coloured tape) and reacting, multicoloured yarn in free chain crochet (my desperate need for positive creativity after all that gloom!)/ other yarns (the others’ less extreme reactions!)

howzabout that for 10 mins! i forgot to ask the others if i can use their names in the blog, so fellow artists credits will follow 😉

the other group focussed on their reactions to the exhibition, using pen and ink like Kubin, they’d just started with a diffuser spray when time was up, so the lightness they feel compared to the misery of Kubin is what shows most, and thank goodness! i had enough sooty black today to last me for several weeks!

i was pleasantly surprised by how much i got to laugh, and i will be thinking about derive for a while…