Maria Christoforatou and Elizabeth Manchester
Date: Wednesday 5th October 2011, 2-4pm
Venue: Green Room, Chelsea College of Art and Design, Millbank
In attendance: Maria Kheirkhah, Elizabeth Manchester, Charlotte Webb, Maria Christoforatu, Deniz Acka, Jim Threapleton, Ope Lori, Angela Hodgson, Lee Campbell, Scott Schwager, Aaron McPeake, Nerma Cridge, AN other, AN other, AN other*
Maria Christoforatou is a third-year full-time researcher based at Wimbledon. Her practice-based PhD focuses on the conceptual space between the notion of 'house/home' in the English language, and the umbrella term 'spiti' in Greek, employing a mixture of textual analysis and experimental art-making. Her research dialogues between a mapping of personal history through experience and fantasies, and an examination of the differences between Greek and English architecture and its effects on the works of Greek and English-speaking artists. It investigates the relationships between symbolic and iconic meanings and the processes of creating and destroying. In her practice, logical truth is often confronted by the absurd.
In this session, Maria presented an outline of her thesis as she is planning to present it at her confirmation, introducing its central tenet – the relationship between the differing English terms ‘house/home’ and the singular ‘spiti’ in Greek and the difficulty of cross-translating. A concurrent theme is house fires, which she has experienced in person – she feels that the scars from these experiences have been hard-wired into her and her subjective experience is part of her research. She listed contemporary artists working with the notions of the house or home, and outlined her methodological tools for analyzing texts about these – Paul Ryan’s TAG system, derived from the semiotic theories of C S Peirce. She is also using Grant McCracken’s interview analysis technique to analyse these texts.
Her hypothesis is that there are different interpretations in the different cultures. From a more general look at artists working with this theme, she is focusing on specific Greek and English artists to highlight the cultural differences. She is looking at the materials that a house is made of and questioning how we feel/experience them, and how they contribute to our sense of house and home. What particular effects might wood have for example? What precisely contributes to the cultural differences – and how far does climate have an effect? How would Rachel Whiteread’s House be seen in Greece? The Greek term ‘spiti’ also refers to hotels, guest houses and hospitality more generally, while ‘katoikia’ refers to residences and architectural habitations. Who lives in what kind of house and how does this affect their sense of self?
Maria showed images of Lead Houses made by the Greek artist Nikos Tranos in 1989, Derek Jarman’s house at Dungeness in Kent (made of wood), Rachel Whiteread’s plaster cast of the inside of a house (1993) and Donald Rodney’s In the House of my Father, a miniature model of a house made from the artist’s (black) skin (1996-7). Images of her work include watercolours, drawings, photographs of a pink dolls’ house with which a performer is interacting, and a small model of a house made of white card
In the following discussion, Elizabeth invited Maria to tell us more about her practice in relation to her thesis. Maria feels it is all very experimental at this stage. Watercolour is a new medium for her, producing beautiful semi-abstracted images. We talked about how Maria chooses which medium to use.
Deniz Akca asked whether Maria is only focusing on contemporary Greek houses – which tend to be stone/concrete blocks - or whether she is also looking at historical houses in Greece.
Lee Campbell introduced the issue of liminality, which is the focus of his own research...
Elizabeth asked whether Maria was interested in the interior of the house, or whether she is only looking at the house/home as a symbol. Maria explained that her research stems from an assignment on her BA, when they were asked to select one from a set of icons/symbols drawn by Magritte to work with. She chose the drawing of a house. She is beginning to think about the inside of the house and has started to paint the walls of the rooms of her doll’s house different colours.
Elizabeth Manchester is a second-year part-time researcher based at Chelsea, looking at subjective feminine experience in relation to the body. In particular, her practice engages with the place of the vagina in the realm of language and the symbolic. Enmeshed in mortality, multiplicity and materiality, her work responds to the call of Hélène Cixous in the 1970s for women to speak from their bodies. In this presentation she will focus on the grid as an organisational structure, in terms of hierarchies, narrative sequences and internal compartments (such as the rooms of a doll's house).
Elizabeth presented a series of works spanning from her time as a BA student at Goldsmiths until the present year. The presentation had a strong narrative/ autobiographical element, which described how the works she was making as a BA student related to her emotional and psychological states at the time.
Many of the works shown comprised multiple images of Elizabeth’s body in series, presented in grid formats. She spoke about feminine identity and the masquerade – as a student she had an issue with the idea of feminine identity being solely about the way we project and present ourselves.
The grid as an organising structure or principle was a key theme in the presentation. As a student, her playful use of the grid was in part a reaction to conceptual minimalism at Goldsmiths. She spoke about a key moment when she discovered Sol LeWitt referring to logic as always being balanced or disrupted by intuition – she was liberated by the possibility that there was a space for something playful and subjective within a logical (male?) structure.
Evolution III 2004
On the one hand, the grid allowed Elizabeth to understand what she was doing, but on the other, it opened up the possibility for subverting narrative sequences. In Pumpkin Performance, a series of images of the artist squatting on a kitchen table were organised out of sequence so that the clock in the background depicts time going backwards. The theme of narrative is still present in Elizabeth’s research, and we discussed the role it might play in the construction of her PhD thesis.
Elizabeth’s current research is looking at the deformity of the vagina in Duchamp’s Étant donnés. She showed work by several other artists who present vaginas in grid formats. She is currently questioning why vaginas may be presented in this kind of format.
A rich discussion followed the presentation:
Lee Campbell was interested in Elizabeth’s use of playfulness and absurdity – he suggested Mikhail Bahktin’s notion of carnivalisation, and Adrian Howes’ work may be interesting to look at.
The issue of documentation and trace in relation to the performative aspects of the work was discussed. Lee referred to Jordan McKenzie, who uses his body as a medium, and his sperm as a record of the performance.
We talked about the photograph as an imprint of light and dark – for Elizabeth it’s about touch, gesture, and the photograph as a trace of a life – that’s why immediacy and making relatively unstaged images is important for her. How will she negotiate this in relation to the staged tableau of Étant donnés. Could there be a spontaneous remake of the work!?
The question of the photographic series as 'textual' was raised – the notion of the language that comes from the body as an issue for Elizabeth’s research. We talked about the textual in relation to the imprint - it being related to touch, gesture and trace - the record of the contact of (part of) a body with paper or another material. for Elizabeth the photograph is intimately related to the imprint - it is an imprint of light, a record of a moment. she also described related body prints she had made in which breasts produce eyes and stomachs make large open mouth-like shapes, perhaps suggesting a pre-verbal language in psychoanalytic terms...
Maria asked how the narration of Elizabeth’s body in the context of her own work relates to a broader cultural representation of female bodies (as beautiful objects?) The notion of the gaze as gendered (or not) was also discussed.