Week 2 project development / coursework 05.02.20
I have been thinking more about the work I am going to create this module and I came across the work of Thomas Demand (Tate.org) after the webinar today , and after looking at his work Tavern from 2006, I came up with an idea for my own work in progress this module. On the Tate page that describes and contextualises Demand’s work it says -
“Demand’s work is based on pre-existing images from the media, often of sites of political or cultural interest. He translates these images into life-size models using paper and cardboard, and photographs the resulting tableaux. These five photographs depict a tavern in the German village of Burbach where a young boy was kidnapped, held hostage and ultimately murdered in 2001.” “Demand’s photographs investigate the traces these mediated images leave in the collective memory.” (Tate.org)
After discussing Charles Sanders Peirce’s 3 levels of signs/characteristics in this weeks readings, videos and webinar earlier today, I started to think more about the indexical and the trace . Sontag says “Such images are indeed able to usurp reality because first of all a photograph is not only an image ( as a painting is an image) , an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stencilled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask” (Sontag , 1977. Pg 154)
I also came across this piece of reading on medium entitled Charles Sanders Peirce: Symbolic, Iconic, and Indexical Signs (Lanir, Lesley. (July. 2019) which helped explain Pierce’s concepts more to me.
These reflections and analysis, combined with looking at Demand’s work has made me consider another possibility for a potential image, using Demands work and the indexical trace of something as described by Sontag & Peirce, as inspiration.
When we first took our children out of school it had been a slow degrading in the trust we had in the school system, the school our son attended, and a particular teacher he had had the previous year. The physical act of leaving though, was a very intuitive and black and white decision, that was bought about by an incident that occurred at my sons school .
We went to an open evening early in October just before the half term. There were other children in the class when we got there so Finn started showing us some of his books, the classroom etc . Whilst looking around I noticed a chart of the wall. First of all, I have a very serious issue with the use of reward charts for children (outlined in this article in Psychology today by Eileen Kennedy Moore “What’s Wrong With Sticker Charts and Reward Systems?” ) and do not agree with their use at all. However, that wasn’t the issue. When I looked at the chart all the childrens’ names were down the left side , and across horizontally each child had varying numbers of squares coloured in. When it was our turn to talk to the teacher, she came over. She was nice, kind, polite, smiling. I asked about the star chart. She said it was a way of rewarding, or rather, acknowledging, both good behaviour, but it also allowed for non academic things to be recognised, for example, when a child helps another child, or tries really hard at something, is kind and compassionate, and I will never forget the words that followed “basically whenever a child does anything worthy of note, anything remarkable.” I looked her in the eye, and she had no idea. Literally none whatsoever. She was, blind. As blind as the system is. I had to physically point out to her that in the six weeks since school had started all the children had received the right to colour in their squares, some (the ‘naughty’ child if you will believe this traumatising board ) had only coloured in 4 or 5 squares, some (the most angelic children ever born or ‘teachers pets’ if you were to believe this chart) had coloured in nearly two whole rows of squares, so perhaps 30/40 squares. My son, my beautiful, funny, crazy, intelligent, whirlwind of a child had not a single square coloured in. NOT ONE. I said all of this to her. How could it be that my son has not made you notice him once? How is it, that my son who was called up into assembly the other day as the only child in the year to get 100 questions correct in his maths test, has by your own admission done nothing “worthy of note, nothing remarkable.”? She was mortified. I actually felt sorry for her. I thought for a second she would cry. She certainly wanted the ground to swallow her up, and quite rightly so. My son had got so proficient at making himself invisible, he had managed to make his own form tutor not see him for 6 weeks, indeed to see no trace of him, either in person, or in ‘trace’ on the wall.
This is why I don’t like reward charts, this is why I don’t like marks, and this is why I don’t like when someone else determines your worth, because how much can a teacher miss, even if it’s right in front of them, to say nothing of what is going on in the background, or the unseen. Reward charts, marks, set people up to fail. They place a value on someones worth, and that is an exceptionally negative thing for a child to have to process and adapt too, and quite honestly, why should they have too?
And so , I thought, for my first image, I am going to recreate, like Demand’s work, from paper, cardboard and then photographing , the iconic reward chart as a tableaux. I am going to start of quite simple I think having never done tableaux before, just to see how it goes.
Here’s the sketch of the concept, I am quite lucky as we have just had our living room plastered, the plasterer actually finished today, so the room is totally stripped bare, so I am going to use it as a studio for this module. It is close, convenient, free and doesn’t cost me a thing economically for the space, but also , beautifully, I love the metaphor of the drying plaster over the coming weeks. That link between the first image of when we took them out of school , the wet plaster, the unfinished ‘canvas’, to tableaux created from scenes of our lives now, where they have had 5 years of alternative education to help them be who they want to be, find and achieve their goals, and set more, to grow and mature , it’s a beautiful metaphor really …
Ilya, Amy & I had a really interesting conversation about this concept on WhatsApp this evening, with reference to, is this image going to be indexical, symbolic or iconic, or indeed both or all three? I had asked Ilya and Amy their thoughts on how they would classify it.
I thought it would be iconic, because it looks like the subject matter it represents, and indexical, because it is a trace of an actual thing. Ilya originally thought iconic, and indexical, but not indexical in the way I thought, just in the fact it was a physical thing created form light. However, she then touched on what I was thinking when I thought indexical, the new star chart is made from a trace of the original, as it is a memory we have, so in that respect it is indexical, as Ilya said “the memory made it, the memory is a trace of the original” . However then we were pulled into the philosophy of “can a memory count as a trace to make something indexical” , this is ambiguous as the ‘trace’ is not a physical thing in that you can touch it, but the memory is a thing, it is in my brain, chemicals, and electricity that IS a physical thing, so it is a trace. It’s a really intriguing concept that at 2am , I am not sure we could ever answer, but then 2am could be the ideal time for metaphysical photography class, who knows !
Demand, Thomas. Biography. Tate.org. Available at https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/thomas-demand-2641 (accessed 05.02.20)
Demand, Thomas. Tavern. 2006. Tate.org. Available at https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/demand-tavern-p79234 (accessed 05.02.20)
Lanir, Lesley. July. 2019. Charles Sanders Peirce: Symbolic, Iconic, and Indexical Signs. Medium. com https://medium.com/@llanirfreelance/charles-sanders-peirce-symbolic-iconic-and-indexical-signs-29e0e40bef1d (Accessed 05.02.20)
Eileen Kennedy-Moore Ph.D. What’s Wrong With Sticker Charts and Reward Systems? Mar 30, 2019 https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/growing-friendships/201903/what-s-wrong-sticker-charts-and-reward-systems. (Accessed 05.02.20)
Sontag, Susan. 2008. On photography. London, Penguin.
Graham. 2020. Tableau 1 Informing contexts ideas