Tattoo Scans: ‘What We Cannot See From Here’ Exhibition

‘What We Cannot See From Here’, exhibition, Link Gallery, MMU. Curated by John Lynch.

Tattoo scans, printed onto 30x30cm acrylic sheet, presented on medical x-ray light box.

Exhibition BLOG

what we cannot poster


My exhibition statement:
A tattoo is (statement)what we cannot see preview 3 Tattoo Scan Light Box Link Gallery what we cannot see preview What we cannot see preview 1Slideshow of group exhibition:

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Exhibitor list:WWCSFH exhibitor list


IOU Making It Workshop

June’s Making it session took place at IOU Studio on Wednesday 5 June at 7pm.

I co-facilitated the workshop with Gerry Turvey. This Making It workshop was all about Leaving a Trace. The session explored the amount of space each of us take up and how we can leave behind traces of ourselves that represent that space. Using found objects and playing with physicality, participants shaped identity and image. The session was held both inside and outside of the studio where participants went for a structured walk in small groups, and brought  photographic images back.

Indoor traces:

Outdoor traces:

Post workshop merging:

Making it pair (2) Making it pair (5)(72) Making it pair (6)(72) Making It Pair(1) Making it pairs (3) Making it Pairs (4)

Flickr collection of images from the workshop

Broken Soul of a Bird

Working with drip paintings, watercolour and lining paper.

I placed a nest up on the back wall of the Parsonage. But it seemed lost and disconnected from the other objects in the yard. So, thinking about the decimation of rare and exotic birds in the late 1890s, it seemed right to have a flash of blood red.

But overnight there was a storm and the nest and the painting came down.

I re-used the rather damp painting, doubled it over, hung it over a branch of a yew tree (tree common to graveyards and associated with death), wove some reads to holt it together, and added more colours.

By late afternoon the sun was setting and shedding lovely light on the painting.

Nested (Photo-shoots)

Further developments on the ‘Nest’ theme using human form and photography. For the nude shots I selected four mounted photos and worked with the curators to position them in the gallery space. The images in the nude shoot aim to have a sense of vulnerability and perhaps an irony in that the naked human form does not have feathers. But although there is vulnerability, there is a sense of protection created by the nest. The nest is an archetypal form, resonating with ‘home’ and safety.

The second shoot was with a model in black with a black feather boa. A different mood. More obviously referencing a bird (corvus, crows and blackbirds?). But perhaps a mysterious narrative, a bird-woman from a fairy-tale? A vignette for projecting fantasy.

The nests are in a public garden, so it is likely that people will want to sit in them at some point. In fact my original intention was to encourage people to do this. The final shot below is of my friend who wanted to do just that. The nest as fun and play.



Bloomberg New Contemporaries: NOT

I don’t know if it was that I went to see the Bloomberg New Contemporaries at the end of seeing a lot of other art at the current Liverpool Biennial, or that I just didn’t connect. Though at the last Biennial I had a similar somewhat dispirited response. The new ’emergent art practice from British art schools’ just didn’t seem very vital to me.

Either way, I ended up not looking at the art, and instead enjoying the atmosphere, architecture and general layout of the old Royal Mail building (the LJMU Copperas Hill Building). So fascinating seeing the recent remnants of a once thriving and busy sorting office. Still remaining are glimpses of a working system: letter feeds, boxed-in conveyor belts, pigeon holes, storage racks, taped off and delineated/specially designated sorting areas. An architectural 3D flowchart of communication and mail dispensation. A shell of paper dispensation, ghosts of postal workers.

The late afternoon light was breaking in like an unexpected guest…..that, and the space itself were the most successful self evident emergent installation….

The Trafford Centre: Holding Fast to Hyper-realism

A visit to the Trafford Centre: Holding Fast to Hyper-realism

That the Trafford Centre in Greater Manchester is a ‘temple of consumerism’ is now somewhat of a cliché. The trouble is that once a cliché is born a mask is adorned. As a critical statement the ‘temple of consumerism’ is happily absorbed as an ironic item of faith by the very object of the criticism. The Trafford centre is a temple with all the delusions, illusions, persuasions, affirmations and convincing rhetoric that any religious cultic institution may hold fast to. But in the realm of the hyper-real even culturally critical terms can float on the dreamboat of surface advertising.

Various mottos could have been carved into the curved frontage of the Orient Zone entrance to the complex. “Abandon all hope you who enter” (from Dante’s Inferno) might have had a more witty irony than the Biblical “Hold fast that which is good” which greets us above the multi-pillared main entrance. The fuller quote from Thessalonians 5:21 is “Test all things; hold fast that which is good.”

A telling postmodern omission. Rather than an injunction to question and to discriminate the good from the bad, the curtailed quote seems to say “what you find here is good, just hold onto it and buy it”. It has become prescriptive rather that educative. Nowhere to be seen is “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves…” Matthew 7:15-20.

The architectural style supporting the quote is grandiose and pseudo-classical/rococo/baroque flecked with deco. The sway of thought is that if someone put this much money, effort and materials in, then of course it must be good. Hold that thought. Hold fast.

Hyper-real places are characterised by surface appearances that do not respond to or welcome the viewer. The sense of sight is condensed to the most immediate and visible aspects of the scene, such as…the ocean liner environment at Manchester’s Trafford Centre….(Urry,J. (2002) The Tourist Gaze, pg.149).

Interesting that the site was owned by the Manchester Ship Canal Company until 1986, when the company was acquired by John Whittaker of Peel Holdings, who went on to build the Centre. In the Orient food hall we are in the expanded belly of a 1930’s cruise ship with seating for 1600 customers. In place of onboard entertainment is a cinema screen dedicated, not to 1930’s movies (which might have posed a more complex, if still ironic, redeeming factor for pre-hyper-reality), but a constant stream of video adverts. In the blue sky-dome, above the onboard diners, gilded reindeers soar as the necessary early harbinger (we are still in October) of the central ecstasy of the consumer religious calendar – Xmas. I think ‘Xmas’ rather than ‘Christmas’ is the appropriate word. Ex-mas, as in ‘no longer mass’ or ‘Not-mass’. As in ex-communicated. We have been thrown out of Church but before we can grieve the loss of God, we are instantly reassured by familiar tropes: the great glass dome (similar to St.Paul’s in London, yet bigger); angels with blaring trumpets (no longer announcing the ‘good news’ but the new goods); and an overwhelming sense of a benign presence, soothing, all knowing (knowing what you want), all loving (offering all you need). And if you have been ex-communicated from a more pagan context there is still the Egyptian parade of Pharos, the Ankh of life, the Sun God Ra, and the Eye of Horus looking after things. Tucked away, behind a lamp-post and to the side of a rack of daily tabloids is a meditating Buddha. He’s having a laugh.


Just past the Buddha is an impressive glimpse of an eggshell blue 380SL Mercedes. I’m seduced. That’s why the Buddha is having a laugh. My critical eye has glazed over. She’s beautiful. Always a sucker for the divine feminine. Surely this isn’t a case of the ‘hyper-real’. This is real. There is no irony here. This is a modernist car. It’s not a replica. I could drive it away. It could be my escape engine from the hell of the hyper-real. And now my post-modern head is spinning. Can you have a religious fall in a pseudo-temple? Can you have a real epiphany in a hyper-real sanctum? Could I go through a Dante-esque journey within the confines of a mega-mall? Where would Dante place the hyper-real in his circles of purgatory?

This car belonged to Mrs Margaret Mary Whittaker the Mother of the Chairman and Founder of Peel Holdings plc and the Trafford Centre. It is installed at the Trafford Centre as a lasting tribute for all her support, inspiration and guidance.’

Christ! It is the sacred feminine – Mary the Mother. Supportive, guiding, inspiring…..I go down one one knee and take a photograph.

I walk past the ejaculating fountain. The droplets peak in a circlet of baubles. Behind, the painted geese are startled, and a woman in an orange robe reveals a voluptuous breast.

I go and buy some trousers in Marks & Spencer’s.

I’m feeling empty and somehow I have to make my way back to the car park. There is a gravitational force field, the glass arches are not windows to the sky but containers for air. I notice the air is heavy. No breezes in the Trafford Centre. Even the endless movement of visitors doesn’t seem to cause a slight current. People don’t rush around the Trafford Centre, they percolate. It’s like walking through melted celluloid. Every shop is a gooey frame from a well known movie. Here the air is invented.

I’m trying to get to the car park but the floor has made me go into New Orleans. Hyper-real feng shui due to close proximity to China Town. How do you make artificial dust? At least there is a toilet nearby. In the toilet is a red-waistcoated man. He is mopping the floor. He has been mopping the floor for ever. With his bent over back and repetitive sweep he has surrendered to the celluloid air.

Why am I buying anti-bacterial hand-wipes in Boots? I’m sure there aren’t any bacteria in the Trafford Centre.

I stopped taking photographs just after the incident with the Holy Mary Mercedes. My camera became very heavy. Anyway, my M&S bag with my new trousers was making it seem like a palava to get the camera out of my back pack. There was probably a subliminal message, just below hearing range, telling me that I didn’t need to look any more closely. Oh, there was. The absence of the first part of the biblical quote on the way in. They got me. Right at the entrance. The religion only works to the degree you don’t ask questions. The Temple is mighty.

Google Earth shot of Trafford Centre

I was ex-communicated from the Trafford Centre.

The labyrinth of minor roads out of the Temple Grounds was less complex than on the way in. They didn’t need me any more.

Google Earth shot of Trafford Centre

In the car, as I left the Orient Zone, I started sneezing.

Google Earth shot of Trafford Centre

I reached for my anti-bacterial wipes.

Slowly I started to notice things like rain, and clouds, and autumn leaves.

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)

Contextual Glare: Response to Susan Sontag’s ‘In Plato’s Cave’

This is a short response further to my previous blog notes and quotes from Sontag’s essay

The word that comes up over and over is ‘context’. A photograph is never isolated from its original context and is modified when presented in new contexts. This challenges me to be more aware of context. But I’m aware there is both external and internal context. For example a photograph of a child in a war zone has a different meaning to the same child abstracted from the context (i.e. one could cut and paste the child out of the broader picture). The external context is changed. But the internal context of the viewer can be vastly varying. Internal mood is internal landscape; is internal context. If I was depressed and looked at the picture of the child in the war zone I would read it very differently than, say, if I was feeling positive, or inspired by the possibility of change in the world. So, it does raise the question of the complexity of context – what does ‘context’ mean? Context in itself is selective. The same photo of a child on a charity leaflet reads differently from the same photo in the midst of an array of newspaper columns, or placed in a fictional film, or used in fascist propaganda pamphlets, or with a humorous caption beneath it.  Then of course there is the social, class, racial conditioning we bring to the photo. Someone raised in a war zone will read the photograph differently from someone raised in a zone of peace and relative stability. So any certainties of contextual definition become very fluid, multivalent and complex. There is no such thing as ‘a context’. There are nested contexts, and provisionally selected contexts. Re-contextualistion is always a possibility, de-contextualisation is always a possibility. Perhaps the most important thing is to always be bringing awareness to the contextual assumptions we hold. That is not always an easy practice as those assumptions are often unconsciously embedded, and further, those assumptions give us security in our familiar perspectives.

This is why Sontag’s essay if so important – she is teasing out assumptions. These are the shadows on the back wall of Plato’s Cave – although we are locked in the Cave, confusing shadow dancers for reality, we resist exiting the mouth of the cave. The contextual glare is terrifying.

Susan Sontag: In Plato’s Cave

Contextualizing Practice.

Notes from Sontag’s essay ‘In Plato’s Cave’ from On Photography (1980) pp.3-12 London, Penguin.

‘inventory started in 1839 and since then just about everything has been photographed, or so it seems.’

‘In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe.’

What is an ethics of seeing?

‘…the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads – as an anthology of images.’

See Godard’s Les Carabniers (1963). The peasants return from the war with only hundreds postcards. Photographs ‘thicken’ the environment.

‘Photographs are experience captured..’

‘To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge – and therefore like power.’

‘Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.’

‘…a photograph loses much less of its essential quality when reproduced in a book than a painting does.’

See Chris Marker’s film Si j’avais quatre dromadaires (1966). A meditation on photographs.

1871 use of photographs as surveillance during the roundup of the Communards.

‘The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture.’

‘While a painting or a prose description can never be other than a narrowly selective interpretation, a photgraph can be treated as a narrowly selective transparency.’

‘There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera.’

‘…the point of taking photographs was a vast departure from the aims of painters. From its start, photography implied the capture of the largest possible number of subjects. Painting never had so imperial a scope.’

‘It was only with its industrialization that photography came into its own as art. As industrialization provided social uses for the operations of the photographer, so the reaction against these uses reinforced the self-consciousness of photography-as-art.’

The ritual function of photography.

Also the rites of Facebook, Twitter etc.

The mobile phone has become part of the modern pop or rock concert.

The wedding photograph as much a part of the ceremony as the main ceremony.

To take photos of children is to show parental care.

Bearing witness to connectedness. Rites of family life.

Photographs ‘help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure’. TOURISM

But can’t the photogenic add to experience? Photography as a strategy to enrich experience? Memories and memory triggers.

‘Photography has become one of the principal devices for experiencing something, for giving an appearance of participation.’

‘Taking photgraphs has set up a chronic voyeuristic relation to the world which levels the meaning of all events.’

‘Our very sense of situation is now articulated by the camera’s interventions.’

‘After the event has ended, the picture will still exist, conferring on the event a kind of immortality (and importance) it would never otherwise have enjoyed.’

‘The person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording cannot intervene.’

See Dziga Vertov’s film Man with a Movie Camera (1929).

See Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). Photographer played by James Stewart.

See Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960).