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Katy Nelson~ Week 3

This week we began on Monday with a lecture with Miranda. We looked at photographs and videos of artist’s work that relates in some way to the theme of ‘time’. This semester, we were told to watch the PowerPoint without writing or drawing anything until one of the three 5-minute breaks. I was keen to try this, as it is always hard to properly concentrate on viewing something whilst also trying to brainstorm ideas, but I have a terrible memory so I found by the end of section 1 I had forgotten most of what we’d just seen (you can see the lack of ideas on my first page). For the second and third sections, I really wanted to make sure I was making the most out of the session so I continued to watch whilst noting down words or phrases that came to mind, rather than drawing. I found this more beneficial to me as I could write whilst still looking at the screen, meaning less of my fleeting thoughts were forgotten. I really enjoy this exercise as we are exposed to so many different mediums and approaches to the concept of time in art, and some of the projects like ‘Progression (Walking)’ 2018 by Anna Macdonald really stood out to me in relation to my own project ideas.

Progression (walking), Anna Macdonald, 2018

Anna Macdonald is a moving image artist and scholar from the UK. She specializes in working with the general public to create her works, and investigates the emotional and conceptual significance of simple actions, such as moving and slowing down. Macdonald’s project titled: ‘Progression (walking)’ is a 22 minutes and 43 seconds long film, shot from a single static shot. In this piece, she tasked the entirety of Pikemere Primary School in Cheshire with walking through a free-standing doorway in their own time, from youngest to oldest, including the members of staff. The video is fascinating- it is interesting to see how each individual responds to these simple instructions differently and also how they interact with the other students in front and behind them as well as the doorway itself. The piece investigates the relationships between movement, time and progression and the uniqueness of each person’s way of movement through the frame is intriguing. This relates to my own project through the way that time is always ‘moving’. The way that the single static shot shows the entire school moving through the space over a period of time, to me, is symbolic of how people are always moving forwards through life, never being able to turn back through that doorway. I feel the piece shows development and has a continuous sense of flow and transformation, which could be linked to the ‘stages of life’ that we present ourselves with in.

‘Day by Day, Good Day’, Peter Dreher

Peter Dreher was born in August 1932 and died in February 2020. He was a German artist and academic teacher who in 1974 began creating the famous collection of still life paintings, ‘Tag um Tag, Guter Tag’. The series consists of seemingly identical paintings of an empty glass in front of a grey background and there are over 5,000 renditions of it. Dreher painted the glass at least 50 times a year up until the 2010s and it was always positioned centrally on a 25 x 20cm surface. Dreher was fascinated by the matter of the glass, which was technically not visible but seen only because of the reflection of light. The collection is very interesting as Dreher was not painting to replicate reality, he was painting simply to paint. Because of this meditative process, I think there is a repetitive stillness and sense of calm that each painting creates, despite the bold strokes of paint. It is interesting how peaceful his works are, as Dreher was brought up throughout WW2, and so it could have been expected that his art would reflect the intense emotion and trauma he experienced during such a scarring time in history. But instead, the paintings display a sense of humble simplicity, as if the artist was searching for a peaceful existence through his focus on painting, where each new day is used to improve and grow from the previous- as the glass studies became more refined, so did his skill, patience and peace of mind. He was always searching for personal growth towards a better version of himself. This relates to my own project as the artist’s approach to his paintings and life were quite philosophical. He was always searching to improve and develop into someone better, more skilled and more successful, similar to the changes that butterflies go through in their life cycle to become their most efficient selves.

  1. ‘Tag um Tag, Guter Tag’, Nr. 796 (Day), 1993, Oil on Linen Burlap 2. ‘Tag um Tag, Guter Tag’, Nr. 590 (Day), 1991, Oil on Linen Burlap

Butterflies in Culture…

This week I wanted to take my research into the significance of butterflies further. In particular, I wanted to explore some of the world’s differing interpretations of butterflies as a cultural symbol, both in the present day and in history.


The Butterfly is one of China’s most important symbolic animals. In Chinese culture, butterflies are seen as symbols of rebirth after death, as well as an indicator that your soulmate has arrived. Seeing two butterflies flying together is also thought to be a sign of love and good luck in relationships. Butterflies also feature in an ancient Chinese text from the late Warring States Period (476-221BC), Zhuangzi, containing stories and anecdotes that show the carefree nature of the ideal Taoist sage. Taoism, or Daoism, refers to a Chinese set of traditions and religions which emphasize living in harmony with the ‘Dao’, which is generally defined as the source of everything and the ultimate principle underlying reality.

  ‘Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know that he was Zhuang Zhou. ‘

 ‘Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.’

Lu Zhi
Zhuangzi Dreaming of a Butterfly
Ming dynasty, mid-16th century
Ink on silk
29.4 x 51.4 cm

I think that this story along with the painting, show a search or idea of clarity surrounding the matter of life itself, as well as the process of transformation.


In Japanese culture, butterflies are seen as the ‘soul of the living and the dead’ due to a popular belief that the spirits of the dead take the form of butterflies when on their way to eternal life. They are also thought to be signs of joy, longevity and marital happiness when two butterflies are seen flying together.

Ancient Egypt

Something I was not aware of before beginning my research is the appearance of butterflies in Ancient Egyptian architecture. Butterfly species such as the Tiger Butterfly have been identified on the walls of the Tomb of Nebamun, Egypt as well as many other tombs. The insects were often depicted as disproportionally large, which is significant as in Ancient Egypt art, size corresponds to the animal’s hierarchal importance. As known, the purpose of Egyptian burial tombs was to aid the dead in their journey to the afterlife, and so the presence of these motifs shows the connection between the beliefs of life, death and butterflies.

Images showing examples of butterfly representations from different burial tombs discovered in Egypt.

My Project…

These are some photos of some things related to my project I saw this week. I though the ceramic painted butterfly jewelry was really beautifully made and the antique box I saw reminded me a lot of the Ancient Egyptian depictions of the insect.

I had some spare pipe cleaners and thought I would continue my studies of the anatomy of butterflies by creating a three-dimensional model. I was really pleased with it as a whole- the wings are pretty accurate although the body could have been slightly smaller. I enjoy making small, fun pieces like this as it lets me explore mediums I would not have otherwise thought to use.

I continued my project further by painting a butterfly from a photograph I took at the Butterfly House nearby last November. It is a watercolour study, as I had missed using watercolour so wanted to revisit it, and I am particularly pleased with the delicacy of the wing patterns.

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