September seminar studio work

I like to look back on work with a bit of distance, so here, belatedly, are some images of my studio work critiqued in the September seminar. (With the added benefit of being beautifully photographed by Lea Schlatter).

September was a work-in-progress seminar, and additionally it was the seminar in which the part four students had to deliver Oral Presentations.  In the short period between July and September my main focus was on creating the presentation, but I wanted to experiment with a couple of ideas, and decided to test out a book format.

Trace book 2   Trace book

Justine Giles, 2014. Untitled (Book of traces) [ink, ballpoint, coloured pencil,    graphite on detail paper, 110 x 175mm (closed)]

The first is a little fourteen page book of transparent paper with book inscriptions (or part inscriptions) on each page. The writing can be see through several layers, though not all of them, which means that as you flick through the book the layered images shift with the pages.

I was interested in seeing what would happen if all these pages that had be altered with handwriting were all together in one place, a concatenation of sentiments, built upon each other, and yet still separate.

Indigo a fiction 3Indigo a fiction 2 Indigo a fiction 1

Justine Giles, 2014. Indigo: A Fiction [mixed media, 137 x 205 x 20mm (closed)]

The second book was a different project based on the theme Indigo. I became interested in Isaac Newton’s inclusion of Indigo as a colour in the spectrum and the subsequent controversy over whether it was a unique colour at all.  The suggestion being (as I’ve written about before) that he wanted very much to find seven colours in the spectrum (because seven was a significant number at the time) and finding only six he is said to have invented Indigo (named after a dye).  It interested me in part because my partner is colour blind and one of the things he has difficulty with is shades of blue, and also because I associated the story in my head with Rebecca Solnit’s Field guide to getting lost where she uses the evocative phrases “the blue of longing” and “the blue of distance” to describe how things at a distance (such as mountains) seem blue, but are no longer blue when you reach them.

I loved the idea that Indigo could be the colour that sits between reality and fiction, known, visible, but somehow contested anyway.


The books were a misstep.

I had been so focussed on the subject that I didn’t pay enough heed to either form or content.  The one-to-one relationship (i.e. books about books) was pointed out as being distracting, and in hindsight I absolutely agree.  It is too easy to miss the subject because the form is so dominating.  The book format, because it is familiar, is also very leading.  Viewers want to read the work in a linear way, which closes it down to one prescribed interaction.

Where other work has been more successful is where they have suggested books while being present as something else. This is a better way of addressing the concept of trace because trace is a transformation not a reiteration. My work is not necessarily about books in a literal sense, but these works made that really unclear.

Sometimes the most useful lessons are learned in walking down the wrong path for a while, because at the very least it helps in identifying what the right path might look like. Understanding what went wrong and why is critical for being able to pick up and progress further.  Mistakes aren’t failures.

A Knight’s Tour

Invention is often built on an existing idea, a small kernel around which the innovation grows. If you were to follow one of these filaments it would lead you backwards and forwards, through repetitions and variations, like some kind of illogical map. The iteration of an idea contains both the familiar and the strange. To a curious mind ingenuity is a problem solving game.

The knight piece in chess traverses the board in diagonals. A knight’s tour is a mathematical riddle in which the knight must navigate the chessboard in such a way that it lands in every square once only. It is at once an intellectual puzzle and a parlour trick.

A Knight's Tour 7

Justine Giles, 2014. Diagram of the Mechanical Turk a chess-playing automaton that bested Charles Babbage twice [ink on paper, 455 x 560mm]

Justine Giles, 2014. I went home to find the Chess Challenger 7 and came back with my father’s old calculator [framed calculator, 250 x 300mm]

 A Knight's Tour 5

Installation view

A Knight's tour 1

Justine Giles, 2014. Image of Charles Babbage as seen in the Science Museum, London in 2009 [graphite on paper and panel, 250 x 300 mm]

Justine Giles, 2014. The right hemisphere of Charles Babbage’s brain as seen preserved in the Science Museum, London in 2009 [graphite on paper and panel, 250 x 300mm]

A Knight's Tour 4

Installation view

A Knight's Tour 2

Justine Giles, 2014. Chess Challenger 7 reconstructed from memory with the help of two siblings and Google [watercolour and graphite on paper, foam core board, 380 x 240 x 65mm]

A Knight's Tour 6

Installation view

A Knight's Tour 3

Justine Giles, 2014. June 2014, Turing test beaten? [screen-shot print on paper, 420 x 297mm]

A few reflections on some random out-of-context stuff from the seminar.

I think I’ve identified the problem I’m grappling with and that is finding a balance between intuition and being purposeful in my art making. A phrase I wrote down twice in my seminar notes was: ‘understanding the consequences of our thoughts’ which is a pretty apt piece of advice for me at this stage of my study.  The problem is, it’s a bit of a conundrum also, because it is all too easy for me to get caught up in the thinking and second guess all of the making to the point of crushing it altogether!  I have to understand the consequences of my thoughts without getting trapped inside them. Understanding the problem isn’t the same as having a solution… but I’m working on it!

On the last day of the seminar there was a really interesting discussion around the division between form, subject and content in artworks.  I’m a bit of a slow burn on this kind of thing so bear with me (and correct me if I’m wrong). As I understand it:

FORM is the materials, what it looks like, how it is made up.

SUBJECT is what it is about, the ideas it explores.

CONTENT is what it does, what the audience reads in the work, what it refers to.

If I’m right, and that is the case then it would seem that in every artwork the artist has control over the form and the subject, but not the content. The artist should understand what the content might be, and perhaps even aim for a particular content to come across, but this is the slippery part because they cannot guarantee a specific content to successfully come across to the viewer. I think maybe it only happens when the form and the subject are very cleverly aligned. Maybe this is what Anthony means when he talks about something humming?  Perhaps also content could be aligned to the artist’s intentions… a work is successful when the content and intention are very close, and less successful where the intentions and content don’t match?

It’s a bit of a brain teaser, but it’s possible probable that I am over thinking it.

David Thomas talked about the benefit in ‘wasting time’ which is not the same as squandering time, rather allowing for time without intention and just being in the world.  I’m resolving to do more of this.  Some of my better ideas have popped into my head, fully formed, out the blue when I’m in the middle of something else, so making time to waste time is probably very valuable for an over-thinker like me.

Two works from January

I wrote this (detail 2)

Justine Giles, 2013-2014. I wrote this in a language I can’t read (detail). [Cut-out and graphite on vellum, 594 x 841mm]

In July I started experimenting with the idea of writing as a form of drawing.  Since then I have become more and more interested in the functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain and what they mean in terms of art making. The left hemisphere, which controls the right hand (my dominant hand) is a linear thinker, this is the part of the brain where language is stored, and it is also the part of the brain that is utilised in writing the alphabet.  The right side of the brain is often associated with creativity and a more holistic understanding of the world.  The right side of the brain is more associated with art.  In looking at text as a drawing process, I realised that it became a very interesting question of which part of the brain is in control.  When drawing the English writing I was trying to pay attention to the forms of the letters over the words and the meanings, but in the process I would slip between the two modes of understanding, sometimes breaking out of the characteristic almost meditative mood that takes over when I am drawing.  I began to think about the watercolour I did that incorporated German written in a child’s hand.  Because I don’t understand German, it occurred to me that this was more like drawing, however to push it further still I knew that the next step must be to draw a language where even the letters are a mystery to me.

The above work, written in Farsi and translated by a friend, reads “I wrote this in a language I can’t read” or at least that is what I believe it to say.  It talks about Trace in the faint graphite gridlines used to create the pattern of the letters, as well as graphite on the wall that is seen through the cut lines, and more faintly through the slightly translucent paper.  This work also experiments with the idea of both additive and reductive marks (drawing and cutting). It is about the hemispheres of the brain, of tricking the right into believing that these are just beautiful lines, and frustrating the left in its quest to make sense of the language.

It is about not knowing, and never having known (as opposed to remembering and forgetting).


Justine Giles, 2014. Prefigurements. [Ink and ballpoint pen on detail paper, 420 x 594 mm]

These handwritten book dedication pages are fascinating to me.  The combination of printed words and personal messages inscribed, create something unique.  There are many books in a print run, but as soon as someone alters it with the addition of their own handwritten text, there is only one just like this.   These works are representations removed from their original context (as part of a book) and original scale, but painstakingly copied to the pressure of the handwritten line.  This communication was meant for one person, but in the process of leaving the possession of the recipient, they are now messages dislodged from their purpose, outdated.

In the absence of the book, these become representations of a transaction between people.

Disrupted thoughts

During one of the toolbox sessions Anthony pointed out that some of us were trying too hard to make connections between our readings and our own practice.  I know that this is something I am particularly guilty of, I do have a tendency to look closely for parallel lines and thinking and I do try to parcel it all up in neat little boxes.  His suggestion was to just write about anything and everything of interest and that the connections would become clear on their own without having to constantly point them out.

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