Research: Video Lecture 3

Following the ideas that the neo-avant garde inscribe new ideas in their art, whether through subject matter of through the implementation of innovative techniques, I am curious to know more about the artists who make work that is socially critical, but are complicit within the realm of capitalism. This seems to be an issue that most of the artists I know grapple with. How can you make a living in the arts, without actively participating in the art market and capitalism? Is it ok? Is there a line that is not meant to be crossed, and how do you know where it lies? What do you sacrifice to live outside the realms of capitalism but within a per-existing art world?

I think even today, for the general public there is a an intimidation factor upon entering most galleries, especially commercial or private. The act of getting buzzed in, or having to purchase tickets in advance for some shows, is totally exclusionary and a daunting task, even for someone immersed in the arts proffessionaly.

Its seems one means of escaping the typical capitalist trappings is to make work that exists outside of the gallery. This goes directly against Greenburg’s ideas that art should be gallery based, and allows opportunities for anyone to be involved in art. The idea of someone stumbling across art on the street and being challenged by it is an exciting domain, but there are still many limitations to consider.

Through books, posters, and the internet, it is becoming easier to share work, but these mediums also still favour certain media – print, design, certain types of drawing. These types of objects through less fetishized than single original works, can still be commodified and sold through the market, or censored by internet providers. Essentially everything is still mediated by those in control of the systems of disseminating information.

In the lecture we are asked to consier; how has the neo-avant guard informed the art that has been created since?

There were many influential artists discussed in the lecture, but Yoko Ono has had, and continues to have a profound impact on performance art which directly implicates the audience. Her performances have created a legacy for themselves, and continue to be performed. Her combination of quiet acts, with the presence of violence, captured in text, instruction and performance, test the human mind. Her work aims to create a better, more peaceful world, and that is still (unfortunately) a pretty radical idea.  I think her influence of combining discomfort and intimacy can be seen in her contemporaries including artists like Marina Ambromovik, Valie Export, Hannah Wilke and in terms of turning private life into public spectacle, Tracy Emin’s My Bed (1998) seems a direct reference.

Yoko Ono, Cleaning Piece III, 1996
Yoko Ono, Collecting Piece II / III, 1963

Ono also seems to directly address the commodification of art and plays with that idea. Many of her instructional pieces can be bought as a book, prints and T-shirts, I even have an Imagine Peace tote bag.

In other works, she plays with our, the audience’s ideas of value. In Morning Piece, 1964-65, she sells the sky and the experience/moments of time, specifically relating to  mornings. What she is really selling is an instruction taped to a piece of glass, which can be performed by anyone, as Ono states “You can see the sky through it.”.

Can anyone really sell a moment of time? No, but Ono did as a vehicle for meditation and contemplation of sunrise which she describes as “an intangible, universally shared, and infinitely repeating feature of human life”. (

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Yoko Ono, Morning Piece, 1964-65

Through these happenings and the work of the neo-avant guard, public practice/social practice and relational aesthetics/relational art, has established itself as one of the media focused on removing commercialism from art. In these works, there are less final products being made (or at least the final product not being the focus or is ephemeral in nature) and more events and experiences being created. rirkrit tiravanija, Jeremy Deller and Thomas Hirschhorn are some of the most notable artists working in this contemporary field, and have all been criticized for the ‘spectacle’ of their work.

Many artists working within this realm, have created something, experience or object, that still exists outside of capitalism, or are at least trying to…

Diane Barsato’s projects often involve working closely with various other practitioners including artists, dancers, and amateur naturalists. In the work Terrestrial / Celestial, She “coordinated an exchange of terrestrial knowledge for celestial knowledge between amateur mycologists and astronomers. First the mushroomers hosted the astronomers on an afternoon foray to collect and identify fungus species. In the evening, the astronomers hosted the mushroomers to look through telescopes at the sun, stars, planets, and satellites. The exchange took place first at a personal scale in Toronto in 2009, and then as a major event in Maple Ridge BC, with the participation of the Vancouver Mycological Society and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Vancouver Centre) in May 2010.” ( Both mycology and astronomy are concerned with the ephemeral and looking closely at what appears to be small, but at differing scales, and are mediated through different senses, and times.

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Images from Terrestrial / Celestial

Barsato’s work focuses on experiencing the world and objects in an engaged manner, and about ways of knowing that are experiential. Her projects, which touch on a wide range of social issues and themes, are about the ways in which humans relate to places, one another and objects, in passive and active ways. Her works come about as events, and are not easily commodifiable, often outside of the gallery, but are tangible and memorable to those involved in the experience.

Tonia Di Risio’s project Sackville Preserves, 2014, was an event I was actively able to participate in. Much of Di Risio’s work address food preparation and the collective nature of those acts, consumption, and sustainability. This event took form as a series of canning sessions, which were open to the public to participate in and learn from. The goal of the project was to use seasonal and local produce to produce jams and preserves that would make their way back to the community. All of the preserves made were then given away at the Doncaster Farm Field Day (a part of the town’s fall fair) as a way to engage with the community. Each jar was editioned like a print, and all of the donations for preserves were donated to Sackville Food Bank.

Though this project culminated in a table of goods which operated in a market setting, this project was made outside of traditional commercial means. All of the supplies and produce were purchased ethically or donated, and all of the donations went back to the community which created the project, in a beautiful cyclical fashion.

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Sackville Preserves Table at Farm Day, 2014

William Pope.L, who has described himself as the “Friendliest Black Artists in America ©” works to engage his audience in topics of class, identity, stereotypes and race, through performance, installation and participatory events. Black Factory project is composed of multiple parts, including a blow up tent containing “select donated black objects. A black object is anything, anything! a person believes represents blackness to him or her.” Such as altered items like canned foods, shirts, water, American flags. These objects are used to challenge viewers to confront their biases, while performers enact skits and interact with the public. He describes these performances as harvesting confusions, questions and conundrums to transform them into “the greatest gift of all: possibility!”. Analysing these divisions to create a sense of unity in a public way. The website states: “ALL Twice Sold monies go DIRECTLY to neighborhood food pantries, half-way houses, shelters, etc. to buy whatever they deem fit.” The project also includes this website: .

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The Black Factory Truck

With the tools of the Neo-Avant Guard in the hands of contemporary multidisciplinary artists who engage in social practice and performance, there are exciting opportunities for art to work within capitalism, but against its purely commercial structure. Though these means for art making are becoming more an more conventional, the desire to create social change prevails in hopes of creating a more peaceful, tolerant, understanding world.

Task 3: Archives and Collections

Astronomical Photographic Plate Collection – Harvard College Observatory Plate Stacks

Hailey’s Comet

Now available online, Astronomical Photographic Plate Collection in Harvard College Observatory Plate Stacks is an archive made up of over 500 000 images, of the night sky from both the northern and southern hemispheres. They are all in the process of being digitized by the DASCH (Digital Access to a Sky Century @ Harvard) program, which began in 2009. As of September 2017, 200 000 plates have been scanned.

This archive came about at an interesting time in American history, as the Harvard College Observatory, where the majority of these plates were made, was founded in 1839, just a few years after the Hailey’s Comet craze.  This even sparked the public’s interest in astronomy, and interest in observatories. This I also the year the Daguerreotype was invented, and photography was beginning to become perfected. In 1940, John Draper, the Director of the Observatory made the first daguerreotype of the moon, and continued to experiment with the process of making photographs through the telescope. Before then, all images of the night sky were drawn by hand, from human observation. Now the technology was available to make more accurate images, and at a much faster pace. From this point on, the standard is to use photographs for res

Daguerreotype of the Moon

earch. The plates were made until 1992, which a brief gap in 1950.

The plates were still analysed by humans, which lead to the group of women being hired as computers in 1975. Responsible for cataloguing and analysing the images made overnight, many of these female computers went on to careers in Astronomy, and are responsible for many important discoveries. Willamina Fleming was initially hired as the house keeper for the observatory, but quickly rose to computer, and then Curator of Astronomical Images. Female computer, Cecelia Payne earned the first PhD in astronomy from Harvard for her work analysing the composition of the sun’s atmosphere, and Henrietta Leavitt’s work cataloguing the brightness of stars was used by Hubble to defend his theory that the universe is expanding.

“Observatory Staff in “paper doll” pose, (in line holding hands) panoramic photograph ca. 1918.” Harvard University Archives / Harvard Libraries
Annie Jump Cannon

Through the digitization of these plates, the information is being conserved. You can see how fragile the glass plates are as objects, but the imperfections are included, and not erased with photoshop, as they are a project of the process. These plates would have been expensive at the time, so even less successful images, and ones were bugs have gotten in the way, are all kept as there is still some useful information on the plate. The imperfections are something that would not be included in collections today, as contemporary astrophotography’s aim is to have no errors, or indication of the human hand.




Along with the glass plates, the sleeves they are stored in are being catalogued, and the log books are being digitized. This work is being conducted by the Current Curator of Astronomical Images at the Observatory, Smith Zrull, in attempts to identify all of the female computers who worked on this decade long project. Of the 130 suspected, 40 are still not identified, but should be credited for their contributions. Much of this work is being done by primarily volunteers through the Smithsonian Institute.


Primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, the plate collection is currently being used in the study of Time Domain Astronomy/Astrophysics. It allows for a unique study of how stars have changed over a hundred years. It also provides a parallel look at how the role of women in astronomy have changed over the last 100 years. While the digitization project will never be able to capture the same tactile quality of the primary sources, it does open up possibilities for anyone to access this information regardless of ability to travel/finances/education. The site is clearly designed for scientific research, but with a bit of time, anyone can work with the search parameters to pull up images that we all wonder about, and want to understand – the cosmos.

Visit the DASCH project online

Eclipse Photography



Making the Universe Physical (updated)

MoMA Louise Bourgeois The Complete Prints & Books Louise Bourgeois. The Long Night. 2009
Louise Bourgeois, The Long Night, 2009

Traditionally, stars had been described as fixed points of light in the night sky, but with changing technology our ideas about them has expanded. They are now considered active, constantly moving and ebbing areas of plasma and gases. These changing ideas are still founded in human perception, and are always in relation tour own bodies. I am interested in how through physical observation, technical hypotheses, and artistic imagination our relationship to and understanding of stars is always changing.

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Louise Bourgeois, Polar Star, 2008
The Long Night
Louise Bourgeois, The Long Night, 2008


These clock works and other astronomy inspired works by Louise Bourgeois evoke a sense of time passing, though a corporal relation to the universe. This sense of mortality, could relate to human biological cycles, especially that of women, and reproductive ties to the rotation of the earth. Because so much of Bourgeois’ work is autobiographical, it is easy to imagine these are stars she has looked up at, and had some connection with, strong enough for her to reproduce them repeatedly in print.  Of her work she remarks: “Some of us are so obsessed with the past that we die of it. It is the attitude of the poet who never finds the lost heaven and it is really the situation of artists who work for a reason that nobody can quite grasp. They might want to reconstruct something of the past to exorcise it. It is that the past for certain people has such a hold and such a beauty … Everything I do was inspired by my early life.” (Bourgeois, p.133.)

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Louise Bourgeois, Les étoiles, 2009


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Russell  Crotty, Three astonomical globes, Vancouver Art Gallery, BC  2003
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Russell Crotty, the milky way

Astronomy has been Russell Crotty’s passion from a very young age. He studied the night sky, becoming an accomplished amateur astronomer with observational contributions to astronomy organizations such as NASA and ALPO. He studies the stars through the viewfinder, not through digital imaging devices. His obsessive documentation of celestial phenomenon shows through his work which combine actual scientific theoretical research and his own interpretations. The globes transform the night sky into something physical. Just a globe is used to better understand the geography of the world, his globes lend themselves to helping the viewer understand the way we see the stars.

Véronique La Perrière M., Le Souffle d’Uranie (Urania’s Breath), 2014

Véronique La Perrière M.’s practice raises questions about memory and trace, perception and identity, the invisible and the phantasmagorical. Her research explores, in the context of historical collections, intersections between mythology, imagination and the rise of scientific thinking. The film Le Souffle d’Uranie (Urania’s Breath) the artist retells the story of Urania, the Muse of Astronomy in Geek myth. The video puts cosmic images into motion, that appear and disappear through the movement of an evanescent matter. She writes that the work is “Inspired by the history of astronomy and the influence of celestial bodies on human consciousness, the film is a meditation on the mystery and fragility of existence.”

John Torreano

John Torreano’s work depict gems, jewels and stars. The gems in these often large-scale panels and sculptural columns form galaxy-like constellations. Torreano’s work often refers to actual galaxies in outer space, with combinations of realism and abstraction. His paintings raise questions of scale, and cause the viewer to question whether they are looking at something incomprehensibly large, something small, that they could hold in their hand, or something viewed through a microscope. All reference the natural world, and draw upon the similarities of patterns found in the natural world.

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Kiki Smith, Nocturne, 2006

Kiki Smith’s representations of stars often depict the vastness of space, and the desire to understand and tame, through categorization, scientific analysis or myth. She usually presents the night sky in relation to the figure or animals, as point of reference. The interconnections of nature is a theme which runs through much of Smiths work, questioning the earthly against the celestial, and the macrocosim and microcoism.  These distant constellations harked the wonder so many feel when looking to the night sky, and point to the mystery that compelled the first astronomers to want to record, name and chart them. She continues this desire to understand though sculpture, drawing, print…

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Kiki Smith, Constellation (detail)

In these artists work, there is an attempt to relate the cosmos, to the body, either in representation, scale or narrative. I think they all speak to a desire to understand the unknowable through the body, and when possible, touch. The night sky has been so widely represented throughout art history, and I feel that I could go on about other artist’s desire to recreate the night sky.

November 20 2017 Additions:

As I have been thinking about how my work for the Frame, Form, Fracture assignment has been developing, my research has been drifting back and forth between scientific sources, and other artists’ work. I have been thinking about how the cosmos is related to the body, both as markers of time and movement, but also just about how we represent the night sky. How do we understand something so infinitely large, and why do we seek to understand it? I have been trying to record these ideas through drawing, for its immediacy, and historical connection to astronomical observations, but I have also been curious about the means other artists use.

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Caroline Bartlett, Full Circle, 2012

When I first saw Caroline Bartlett’s Full Circle works, I immediate thought of the cyanometer I wrote about in an earlier entry. These works made of pleated, stitched linen and porcelain, evoke constellations against a changing sky, on materials that seem intrinsically connected to touch. Bartlett talk about her folding work as collecting everything together, from across time and space, into a physical object.

Stanislava Pinchuk, Dreaming Through Mapping, 2013

Stanislava Pinchuk, also known as Miso, documents the night sky through pokes, through paper or into skin through her repetitiously punctured drawings and homemade tattoos. Through her paperworks, personal journeys are depicted as constellations, and scientifically inspired diagrams. Translating the world around her from personal to astronomical in proportion. “A walk between her home and her friend’s place becomes a trajectory of inter-planetary orbits and speaks volumes about our own navigation of the complex environment we inhabit.” The imagery we see is made up of the absence of material, questioning the nature of space between things, and what those are made of, playing with the idea of what is the void, and how it relates to our lives.


Her tattoos similarly place a personal value on the astronomical. Each is traded for a meal, and bouquet, a place to sleep. Altering the value of a star, or moon to something physical, and understandable in our world.

Stanislava Pinchuk Home-made tattoos... A map of 4 cities between Melbourne (Constellation): traded for a drawing
miso: home-made tattoos for katie / map between 4 important places in relation to melbourne / traded for installation help

Since 2011, upon hearing the news stars have died, Katie Paterson has been writing and mailing a letter announcing each ones death, or offering her condolences to the person who discovered that star. Between three and 150 letters have been written every week. This work and All the Dead Stars document the locations of just under 27,000 dead stars – all that have been recorded and observed by humankind. The map and letters combine the galactic with the mundane, reaching for further connections to space, over the course of time.

Katie Paterson, All the Dead Stars, 2011
Katie Paterson, The Dying Star Letters, 2012

Hajra Waheed’s series Still Against the Sky 1-3, mimic a pleated maps of the galaxy, making the infinite space seem intimate in scale. This deep sky meditation, could be folded and fit into your pocket. The surface is embossed, giving an additional tactile quality to the cosmos. Waheed also describes it as able to reflect the sun, to mislead any drone’s cameras and making you untraceable. In her ongoing exploration of surveillance, this map acts as a tool to disrupt their work. This idea also, fits within her larger questions about the notion that stories and events exist only if they are registered, recorded and recounted, questioning what is the truth.

Hajra Waheed, Still Against the Sky 2/3, 2016

Through these different methods of working, conceptual approaches and materials, the universe is make into a physical representation. Each made at a human scale, while not explicitly depicting the body, makes reference to our connections to the cosmos by way of trying to understand ourselves.


On Blue

blue           frequency: 606–668 THz                wavelength: 450–495 nm

icelandic blue.PNGSince arriving in Iceland, it snowed on my first full day, and the landscape has drastically changed. Looking through the photos I have been collecting from hikes, each is predominantly blue. With so little day light, and the sun mostly behind a fjord from my point of view, the whole island glows a bright blue grey most of the day, and the evening transitions into a deep blue black.

I have been interested in the blues of the night sky for a while, but now, surrounded by these new blues, I can’t seem to escape it. These are peaceful quiet blues, with hinds of pinks and yellows from the moon and the sun. The water around Hrísey is at times an intense aqua marine, and other times reflects the grey skies and fjords. Other than the brightly coloured houses, the landscape is minimalized to white, grey, blue and the black of the rocks and sand. Its like the contrast of the whole landscape has been turned down, and the blue tint is turned up.

View from the main road on Hrisey
I have just finished reading Maggie Nelson Bluets, a short book of 240 prose poems, meditating on the colour blue, love and loss, which evoke philosophical references to the colour blue in various forms. These ‘propositions’ as nelson calls them describe blue objects, places, analogies, emotions, memories, bodies of water, allegories, people… Nelson describes her obsession with blue, her inability to escape it. Some of the propositions which resonated with me included these:


75. Mostly I have felt myself becoming a servant of sadness. I am still looking for beauty in that.

77. “Why should I feel lonely? Is it not our planet in the Milky Way?” (Thoreau).

156. “Why is the sky blue?” – A fair enough question, and one I have learned the answer to several times. Yet every time I try to explain it to someone or remember it myself, it eludes me. Now I like to remember the question alone, as it reminds me that my mind is essentially a sieve, that I am mortal.

157. The part I do remember: that the blue sky depends on the darkness of empty space behind it. As one optics journal pus it, “the colour of space and illuminated by a sunlike star will also be blue.” In which case blue is something of an ecstatic accident produced by void and fire.

229. I am writing this down in blue ink, so as to remember that all words, not just some, are written in water.

Along with thinking about blue, I have also been thinking about bodies, and their connection to the celestial sphere. The way bodies are represented in the cosmos through myth, but also though the poetic notion that our bodies are made of the same elemental structures as the stars (Carl Sagan: In analysing the patterns on my body and the similarities between my moles, scars and freckles to the patterns we see in the night sky. That change in scale is an enormous one, but it also helps me identify with the unknowable expanse of space.

Left: The marks on my left forearm, Right: Taurus

I also see blue in my body, the faint veins under my skin, and the fading black of tattoos that now appear blue. Nelson writes about how rare blue is in nature, how blue foods are much less common than any other colour, and how much research has gone into developing blue pigments. But from the black ink, and my red blood, I can see blue in my body. But she also writes that blue is abundant, it is everywhere we look, the sky the sea. It is a topic that is continually written about, and explored.

Horace-Bénédict de Saussure’s cyanometer, 1760

In my research on blue,  came across references to a Cyanometer. Invented in the 18th Century, by the Swiss physicist, Horace-Benedict de Saussure and Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist, this tool was used to measure the blue of the sky. It contains 53 shades which reflect the blueness of the sky, a product of the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere at any one time. This tool was initially developed to answer ‘why is the sky blue?” a question which at the time had not yet been solved. Though it doesn’t explicitly answer that question, it is a stepping stone towards understanding.

It is not common to measure a colour in this way, and though it looks very similar to a colour wheel, it serves a very different purpose. This tool could be used in many different ways to yeild any number of answers about the colour of the ocean, human eyes, paint, berries…

I was able to make some cyanotypes on the first non-windy, sunny day here. The image are made from snow, and ice that has been shaped into circles. In the hopes of creating sort of star like forms against blue backgrounds, I think the final products have an ethereal quality. I plan to pair them with drawings and embroideries, and eventually represent the total number of known stars in the pleiades cluster. To the naked eye there are 7 visible stars, but in 528 stars make up its luminosity and over 1000 field stars make up its total cluster mass.

Here are a few of my drawings/prints of the 528:

in the process of being exposed
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a few of the final products






Making Day

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It was great to have some very focused time to sit down and just make, and I found it a very productive evening. For Task 2, I am trying not to think about the final product too much, at least not while I am making.

Making fractures images of the night sky, in an attempt to break it down into comprehensible compartmentalized fractures, I have been focusing on making them a handheld size, or in reference to the body. Starting with constellation boundaries that are established, but also by creating my own forms. Hands, star polygons, and soon to be feet, legs, other organic shapes, started to emerge from just putting brush to paper.

Taking these created fragments, I plan to frame them back into a recognizable image, likely a silhouette of a body, something we can touch and (mostly) understand.

Questions – of the void and the physical, how energy and matter (from stars) are represented, dark/light, space as a measurement of time/movement/change, absence and presence, myth as a form of understanding/making sense of the cosmos…



Hrísey for November

I am currently on the island of Hrísey, in Iceland, for a month-long residency with Gamli Skoli. The town is very small with only 160 residents, and very few distractions other than the amazing landscape. I’m hoping this isolation will help me focus on making work.

My shadow in front of Pierre Coulibeuf’s installation at the Reykjavik Art Museum

This does mean a big change in the way I have been working, since I was not able to bring all the supplies and sources I would have if I were at home. There is no store to get supplies on the island, so what I have packed is it. I think this will really help in forcing me to simplify, and focus on drawing and cyanotypes. Hopefully these restrictions will cause a bit of a challenge, leading to some more simplified work.


My desk, after the first snow of the season

I am setting some guidelines for myself, to be as productive as possible, as I work on a Task 2, 3 and a project for the Arts Board of New Brunswick. These guidelines include spending time in the studio everyday, but also ensuring I have time to be outside, read and research. They also include leaving time to play with materials, and starting each day in the studio with an exercise (making a postcard sized drawing) with no pressure to warm up.

I have been thinking about Sister Corita Kent’s studio rules for the Immaculate Heart College Art Department. I love that she creates these rules, but they are fluid, and changed from week to week, and always have an undertone of encouragement, rather than to dissuade action.

Sister Corita Kent’s studio rules for the Immaculate Heart College Art Dept.

I think “rule 8: don’t try to create and analyse at the same time. They are different processes.” Is such an important guideline that I often let get in the way of my making Often, I am trying to analyse while I am creating, which just causes too many questions and self doubt. Or, I am creating while I should be analysing; I will think for not long enough, before I just in to try and change the work.

Her rules embrace uncertainty, which is something I have been feeling so much of the last few weeks due to travel, but also in my practice. Through this embrace of uncertainty, I think she helps point to being aware of everything going on around you, and work ethic as an answer to this uncertainty.

Uncertainty seems to be playing a larger and larger role in my work. I have been questioning whether instead of trying to organize things into comprehensible accumulations, that maybe I should try and work against this, and just allow the work to have an element of uncertainty. That space, where I am out of control of the reading of the work is tantalizing… hopefully I can get there through the guidance of these rules, and the program.