I began Week Three by experimenting. I think this is always a great way to start the week as it is fun and really puts you in a great mood. As I had discussed in my previous tutorial with Miranda, I was going to experiment with creating sculptures of animals which are at risk from plastic pollution and rubbish. I decided to start by making a bird made from wire. I chose a bird as it is a very familiar shape to start with. I began by taking wire which I had found around my house, and used pliers and cutters to manipulate it into shape. Although I enjoyed what I was doing, it was really difficult to get the correct frame and shape with the wire, as it was too stiff for me to bend. The exercise was useful as it allowed me to experiment with the wire and see what I needed to source to improve. Although not yet finished, I am pleased with it as it is recognizably a bird.
After experimenting with wire I had found in my house and garage, and realising the limitations of the material, I decided to purchase some craft wire. I am not entirely comfortable with buying wire, as my project is all about re-using and re-cycling materials, but I would like to get comfortable with making sculptural shapes and using the proper materials may help me with this. The picture below depicts the different sizes of craft wire which I have bought. I was really surprised at how much easier the wire is to bend and manipulate compared with the wire I had found around my house; it was so much more fun to work with as I was not struggling with the stiffness.
Using my new craft wire I decided to experiment with making a turtle. The turtle is an animal which I have admired for a long time; they have beautiful, gentle souls. They are an animal which tugs at my heartstrings, particularly with regards to the dreadful way they are affected by plastic pollution. I think I would like to do more research on the turtle, to understand more about it, how it lives and how it is affected by our human presence.
Making my wire turtle was a lovely experience. I found the shape so comfortable, and once I had created the curved frame, it was really enjoyable to just weave the wire around it creating the different patterns of the body. I am looking forward to finishing the turtle and seeing the final appearance. My intention is to perhaps begin weaving strips of plastic which I will have collected through the wire frame, such as plastic bags and disposable masks, although I have not yet finalised this idea.
It is a relaxing thing to do in the evening, and as I am creating the turtle, I have been reflecting on the way we treat animals and how our presence on Earth is damaging to all of the species around us.
The workshop this week was the first in a series of five workshops titled ‘Lost and Found’. The workshop began with us each choosing a background for ourselves off a webpage which was full of photographs of endangered and vulnerable animals, taken by Joel Sartore. Each of these photographs had a black background, with the animal centre stage. When all of us are seen together on zoom, it is as though we have each become multiplied – our human form and our animal form. I wonder how each person picked their chosen animal from the website – did they resonate and identify with the animal or did they just love the appearance? They may have always had a love for the animal. Personally I chose a Siamese fighting fish – I was in awe of the beautiful deep red colour and the beautiful flouncy fins. The way that the fish looks so beautiful and peaceful, yet is actually quite aggressive also was a factor in me choosing it.
After we had chosen an animal background, Miranda began the workshop by giving a sort of science lesson! I have written some of the statistics, definitions and facts on the sheets of paper photographed below. The facts and statistics about how many species of animals and plants there are truly shocked and amazed me. The sheer variety is unimaginable – and there will be so many more which are still unaccounted for. How can we as humans, just one tiny species, ever compare…
It was then clear where the ‘Lost’ section of the workshop came into play. We learnt the statistics of how many species had been lost due to human existence. After the harrowing statistics, we then listened to a talk by Sir David Attenborough on the Dodo. I found this to be so upsetting, particularly how the body of the dodo adapted negatively and became unable to defend itself against humans, or even survive in the ecosystem.
We then watched four short films which had the style of both an artwork and a documentary. Two in particular stood out to me. The first was ‘The Apology to the Great Auk’. This was a sincere attempt by the community of Fogo Island, to apologise to the Great Auk, a species extinct since the 19th Century. The community of Fogo created an Apology Committee, which drafted a letter of apology, subsequently read out to the sea by the Mayor. The Great Auk was hunted for its meat and feathers, and the species which was once numbering in the millions, became nothing. I found the apology to be deeply humbling, and really made me consider the way we treat animals of all kinds.
The second art piece which stood out to me was titled ‘The Very Loud Chamber Orchestra of Endangered Species’. This was made up of sound recordings from 14 either endangered or critically threatened animals. It is an audible attempt to restore the dignity of these animals, and be a wake-up call to the human race. Hearing the voices of these animals which are so often ignored was both beautiful and scary at the same time. It was an audible reminder of the destructive way we are treating our planet; the consequences of our choices.
Finishing our workshop, we first had to all read out ‘Extinction declaration Ritual – Apologies and Promises’ by Marcus Coates. This was a really beautiful thing to take part in – all of our voices across the world, each of us trapped by the confines of the zoom call yet joined together by a collective apology and wish for a better future. We then individually wrote an apology to an animal species of our choice. I chose to address mine to a collective of all of the species we had lost – not one in particular stands out to me above another; I am just deeply saddened that we had not yet woken up to what we were doing as a human race.
For next week, we will explore the ‘Found’ section from the aforementioned title. This was briefly touched upon in the workshop today, where we watched a video about bringing back species which we had lost through advancements in science and DNA cloning. I do not think this is the best idea personally, although I would love to see these animals, because the world at the moment is still not kind to animals and ecosystems have advanced so much. What world would we be bringing them back to?
The most exciting part of the workshop was at the end, where we finally was able to open our packages which we had been sent! We first had to send a photograph of the package unopened, and then the contents inside to Miranda. Of course, I had to include one of my animals in the picture, as she was so curious as to what was in it!
Our instruction for next week’s workshop is to prepare a list of about 50 characteristics of an imagined animal species and write these on the brown paper we received in the package. We then have to create a name for our animal species, and write it on the label. I am still intrigued as to what the vial is for…
Michael Landy Talk
The ultimate irony of Break Down is that, as soon as it ends, Landy will have turned himself into the ideal consumer – a man who needs to be sold new underwear, pyjamas, shoes, toothbrush, hairbrush – Richard Dorment, The Daily Telegraph
On the 10th February, I watched a livestream of a talk between Michael Landy and James Lingwood. Landy is best known for his installation piece Break Down of 2001 where he systematically destroyed everything he owned. The talk was a celebration of Break Down, occurring exactly 20 years after the opening. Landy first talked through his preparation for Breakdown.
The project began as Landy made an inventory of everything he owned. Cataloguing his possessions took a year to complete. The list included every item of clothing, every book and love letter, every work of art, and even his red Saab car. 7,227 items in total. Does this seem a lot? I cannot even begin to comprehend how many items I must have in my bedroom alone. Consumerism has risen hugely since 2001 when the project began. I am a victim of it, trapped in the cycle of buying.
Break Down did not take place in a regular gallery. Instead, the machinery was installed in an empty department store on Oxford Street in London. An ironic further jab at consumerism perhaps? Landy comments in the talk how people just wandered in from shopping, expecting to buy something in another shop but instead being confronted with his performance art.
Systematically destroying all of his possessions was no mean feat. It took a team of operatives and a car mechanic, all dressed in the same blue boiler suit – this was actually the only item Landy kept at the end, possibly preferring not to walk out of the space stark naked. The items were classified into ten categories – clothing, furniture, kitchen, leisure, motor vehicle, artworks, perishables, studio material, reading material and equipment. Each possession was taken apart, broken and pulverised. This was achieved through a conveyor belt system which ran throughout the space.
I did not get the feeling from the talk between Landy and Lingwood that he felt particularly upset during the process of destruction. He seemed relieved more than anything. Consumerism is such an interesting concept – we buy so much stuff, fill our lives with product after product until it becomes too overwhelming. On a daily basis I hear my mum complain that “there is too much stuff in this house”. Ultimately, does it make us happy? A lovely aspect of these zoom calls is you get to see a snapshot of the talkers home life – behind Landy is a stark empty room. Perhaps this is an indication of the impact Break Down has had on him over the last 20 years. In contrast, Lingwood sits in front of a cluttered book shelf.
There are aspects of Break Down which inspire me in my own project for this Semester. Consumerism underpins my thoughts and ideas, it powers me to raise awareness of the effects our lifestyles are having on this planet. In no way am I perfect when it comes to this, but my project is inspiring me to do better myself. The element of Break Down which stands out to me is the inventory of everything Landy owned and subsequently destroyed. Cataloguing each item gives it a temporary importance, a moment, before it is smashed to pieces. It brings attention to each item and makes one analyse why it even exists in the first place. Looking at my own desk now, there is so much I can list that ultimately seems pointless:
- Broken earphones.
- A phrenology head.
- A small compact mirror I never use.
- A smashed mobile phone.
- A miniature compass.
My life would be the same if I did not own these items. Some of them are useful, some of them bring me joy, but I would be the same without them. Break Down is important because it makes one think. I am not sure if Landy was driven by the environmental implications of consumerism when creating the performance piece, but in the wake of current news about climate change and Extinction Rebellion, it is now infused with this meaning.