Monday 26 November 2012

Past Projects- Artist Health and Safety

   This is another retrospective at a past project.  Back in the early 2000’s, the Foundation Year in fact, I nearly shot myself in the foot project-wise by producing a huge, rambling, sprawling exploratory project in the Pathway stage which didn’t exactly get good marks or impress any lecturers.  Anxious to produce something for the final body of work which would enable me to get a good enough grade to get into a Uni, I decided on a much more focused project.

   Artist Health and Safety was inspired entirely by something that happened during that rambling cock-up of a Pathway project.  Part of the work involved Graffiti, and I ended up running foul of the College in that (obviously, in hindsight) they didn’t want me going round spreading graffiti around the place.  So I tried to arrange to do it indoors in a more gallery environment which was available to me, which is when health and safety reared its head: in order to spray a couple of small pictures on a wall I’d need protective clothing, face masks, goggles, and extractor fans etc, alongside suitable paperwork.

   Inspired by this, for the final project I decided to spoof the concept of Artist Health and Safety and produce a fake catalogue of products to enable an artist to safely practise their calling outside- protective clothing, mobile secure studios, and specially set-up permanent ‘Field Studios’ inspired by a piece of sculptural work I saw in a gallery in Holland.  Though it wasn’t that big a factor in the project, there was a degree of the post-apocalypse themes which characterise a lot of my work, which would become more prevalent as the project went on.
   Quickly though I realised that in order to carry all this out, I’d need to do a lot of the work with miniatures… I’d dabbled with using miniature sculpture pieces in the Pathway project, but now I’d need to do work on a much larger scale.

   The first thing I ended up building was the artist Field Studio.  This was a first go at something like this for me, was largely experimental, and frankly something of a learning process (that’s to say, a massive cock-up which I swore not to repeat with the rest of the project).  Originally I’d intended to make something lifesize, but realised that would be everything-prohibitive (cost, materials, storage-space, sanity) so produced it to a 1/4 scale instead. 
   The design was freelance, but followed certain criteria- it needed to be big enough to seat a person sketching or painting, secure with the minimum exposure to the environment for the delicate artist inside, caterpillar tracked to cope with any terrain, and so on.  The basis for the vehicle was MDF, plywood, card, and anything else lying around the Resistant Materials Workshop.  The cat-tracks were rubber from a conveyor belt, and setting a standard for my later work, everything was lashed-up using hot glue and sticky tape.

Some of the bits and pieces being used to add details, including old circuit boards and a dead camera.

   The interior needed to be fully modelled too, to enable the fake catalogue photos, so the idea of padding and making the interior as safe as possible was arrived at.  The comfy chair was built up from card, and was lined with cotton wool.  Originally the material used to cover it was vinyl plastic for that shiny space-age feel, made from cut-up beachballs.  What can I say, I’d seen “Barberella” on the telly, and was going for that 60’s vision of a future where everything was made from transparent vinyl and PVC… however it proved spectacularly unreliable, and it wouldn’t glue properly- merely melting, producing a sickening lung-busting toxic smoke.

   A change of plan, to emphasise the contrast between the soft, comfy inside and the harsh outside, was to use teddybear fur instead.  The result was a strangely fetish-like concoction, with the inside entirely in brown fur with bits of equipment dotted around (lift-out easel, camera, periscope, etc).  An astonishing amount of material was used in the end, but it had the desired effect.

   Having gone to this trouble, like an absolute tit I didn’t realise that the fake-metal effect on the outside of the studio (achieved with shiny reflective card) would make it impossible to photograph properly in a studio and drop-in to landscape shots.  I ended up having to carry it out onto the playing fields outside and shoot it on grass, and hope that the results could be dropped in easier to the final pics.

   Learning my lessons from this debacle, the second mobile studio was slightly more practical.  When I’d been researching on small self-propelled vehicles, I kept coming across railway Draisines and railcars, used as either mobile observation and scouting vehicles by the military, or as inspection vehicles for peacetime railway engineers.  This led to the idea of small, mobile, artist railcars which could shuttle around the more scenic parts of the British railway network, to enable artists to explore these areas.

   The design wasn’t really a design as such- a morning sketchings produced 3 or 4 options, the most practical of which was then made up out of card.  The chassis was from a toy train set, bought ridiculously cheaply from Poundland (again, starting a trend in my projects which continues to this day), as a loose idea I had for the final exhibition was to have the model trundling round on a shelf as a fake ‘demonstration’ vehicle.  The scale was more manageable, roughly 1/72nd, but that wasn’t too important to be honest.  The model was built and painted very quickly, and used in numerous photomanips.

The model dropped into a shot of the Cambrian Coast Railway at Talybont, West Wales.

   The final miniature built was a permanent field studio, which arose from the research stage.  The idea was to follow the idea of a pre-fabricated structure, strong, quick to assemble,  It basically ended up like a large observation tower, inspired somewhat by second world war fortifications I’d seen on a visit to Normandy the year before.  The model was built up from card and acetate, and again, used in photomanips.

The Field Studio, atop mount Snowdon

   The project was pretty successful by the standards of the course, and helped me pull my grades back up.  More importantly in hindsight, it proved the proper starting point for what would become a very common theme in my work, in the use of miniatures in projects to create fake history.  Really, it could be said to have been the single biggest inspiration for much of the Model Village project 3 years later.

   Fast forward to that project, and in the slightly chaotic, post-apocalyptic world of Britannia, it seemed a fitting environment to revive the Artist Health and Safety concept.  The idea of artists still being encouraged to work in this environment, but needing to be protected and insulated from it, fit in nicely, so it was folded into Britannia.  Originally the company producing this equipment was Random Industries (which served as a sort of joke company for numerous projects around the time of my Foundation Year), but this evolved by the time of Britannia into the similar Generic Products; a behemoth nationalised industry which was a sort of Umbrella corporation for lots of smaller companies, and one of whose subdivisions was the Artist Health and Safety company.
   The only surviving models from the Foundation shoot were the railcar and the fixed-Field Studio, so they were tarted-up a bit and dropped into the project.  By the time of the second-wave of the Model Village in 2008, photos featuring the sprawling workshops of the Artist Health And Safety division cropped up too.

Field Studio in the model village project, next to a stream in Wales

A shot of the supposed Artist Health and Safety Division factory, produced for the Model Village

Nothing much has occurred with this theme since the end of the Model Village project, though sketches for the Steampunk work (which is set in the same fictional universe) do feature an artists tower.  Its certainly something I wouldn’t mind returning to at some point…

Friday 16 November 2012

Update- Project Thunderbolt

What-ho all, time for updateyness on an ongoing project.  Thats right, current work, not another bloody retrospective post on a previous project, and more waffling about the Britannia Model Village or Steampunk stuff.

Work continues apace on the Thunderbolt miniature- in the last update, the model was about 75% completed, but unpainted.  A recent surge in activity saw me trying to get it a bit more finished, so this post shows its current state- most major construction work done (apart from finishing the pilot and the cockpit glazing), and a start made on painting.

   For the sake of the pictures I have planned, the Bolt is being liveried up as a Phantine Air Corps plane, from the novel “Double Eagle”, in particular the plane of the squadron leader, Bree Jagdea.  Its eventually intended (after I’ve done some pics using the model) to re livery in a squadron marking of my own devising, but for now it is being used for a piece of fanart

   Markings for the aircraft are in fact something that have caused me some bother- I didn’t have any transfers big enough for this model (it being built to 1/32nd scale), and I didn’t want to just rip-off pictures found on the Internet, so I ended up designing my own markings.  The Stars and Bars Imperial Eagle above was drawn up, and developed as a supposed modification of the standard 40K Eagle, perhaps a special version created for the Guard Air Force.  Very much inspired by the US Air Force logo.  Other bits and pieces were knocked up on Photoshop specifically for the model; they're not too clear in the below snaps, but should be more visible in the high-res pictures the model is intended for (for instance, there are 'rescue' arrows on the cockpit, squadron and pilot ID tags, and a slightly gung-ho "GET SOME" stencilled between the cannon rig under the nose).

It was given a paint scheme based loosely on 80’s Nato camo, mainly because I like the scheme (child of the 80's and all that).  Belly is light blue, top surfaces a mix of lawn green and primer grey, applied in several coats direct from spray cans, because I'm too poor to afford an airbrush.  At this point it the model needs to wait a bit until I complete all the decals- PH/01 referring to the squadron, but Jagdeas aircraft is tail serial number 02 so I need to knock those markings up, and also paint a bit of nose-art on, then weather the whole shebang to make it look a bit more like a veteran, battle-scarred aircraft.  In the book Jagdea is very straight-laced and serious, so I don't know if she'd really go for having nose-art on her aircraft, but I've wanted to try it on a model for a while, and have a design I came up with for the Britannia Project which never made it into the final models, so I may reuse that on an engine cowling.  I'm aware that the model is pretty heavily armed too compared to the Bolts in the novel (which only had gun armaments), but then again, I prescribe to the maxim that one can never have enough Stuff That Goes Boom, and anyway, its a bloody made-up plane in a book set in the far future, and I'm trying as hard as possible not to take this sort of thing too seriously at the risk of murdering my social status any further.  Incidentally, and somewhat ironically given that this is a Warhammer 40K model, its super-scale of 1/32nd compared to normal citadel miniatures has meant that the nose guns are in fact the only citadel parts used in its construction...

As the model approaches completion though (reckon theres about another evenings work, when I get chance) I need to build a couple of other models before I can start the photographs this model is intended for...

Friday 9 November 2012

The Propaganda Effort

I know the whole point of this blog was to document past projects alongside current stuff that I'm working on, but without anything good enough to show off at this moment, I'm dragging back through the archives for the sake of something to post...

A look back this week at bits from several past projects, but something that started with the Britannia Model Village, and which has featured in several subsequent projects- using miniatures as an element with creating false posters.

Back in the early days of Britannia, I found that the best way to tell the back story of this fake, alternate Britain was to use propaganda posters, adverts, graffiti etc in the background to set the scene.  With some of the films that helped inspire the Model Village ("Children of Men", "V for Vendetta", "Doomsday") there was a wealth of stuff hidden in the background, that you only notice in passing.  Unless you are a nerd like me who specifically looks for stuff like that, to the annoyance of friends and relatives who get sick of me pointing stuff out whilst they're just trying to enjoy a film.  I wanted the same effect though with background stuff, helping to tell the story.

Back in second year I'd shot a project called "Happygoth" (long story short, evil corporation rebrands a niche look to make it more commercially viable to the masses), and the outcome was a series of fake posters and magazine images.  It was something I decided to return to for Britannia, and indeed the Happygoth posters were tweaked a bit and appeared throughout the project.

The problem was that it meant I had to produce a load of imagery in a relatively short space of time, and because it all had to fit in with this false Britannia I was busy creating, I couldn't really use stock.  People familiar with my work will know that I have a habit of making my life harder in this way, which is probably why I spend ages doing photography shoots with home-made images, making no money, whilst other photographers I was at Uni with are more commercially successful photographing celebrities and football matches, but hey-ho, not that I'm bitter or anything.

I chose to rework some classic real-world propaganda posters for Britannia, as part of the half-arsed satire I was going for in the early days of the project, when it was more of a piss-take than a fully fledged-out alternate setting; I ended up modelling for a lot of them myself (thank God for having self-timers on a camera) in the space of one weekend, as I desperately needed the posters in a hurry, before I could start shooting actual pictures of the model village.  This was mainly a consequence of lecturers wanting to know why, three months into an 8 month project all I was doing was building Airfix kits instead of taking photos- in hindsight, I suppose it was a fair concern.  After this initial flurry of poster-making I was able to rope some other people in for a slightly more co-ordinated effort, and starting a trend which continues to this day of using people in shoots before they can think of a convincing excuse not to participate, I set about drafting people in to dress up in silly clothing.  Most of my housemates and friends ended up in Britannia in some capacity- for example, the Emperor of Britannia is a friend of mine who at the time was in the year below, the leader of the resistance who is wanted by the authorities was a housemate, an old friend from college turned up on a police recruiting poster as a riot cop, my now-wife is in a news broadcast as a scientist, etc etc...  I only actually cast two people specifically when I needed some fake holiday/travel posters, because magnificent as my friends were, a bunch of heavy-metal-fan gothy chaps didn't really suit the swimsuit-clad girl with a beachball-type poster that was required.  As for other elements, I couldn't go around finding real tanks and jets to photograph, so just shot pics using the models and miniatures being built for the actual model village shots.

A typical scene from the model village shoots, note the fake telly broadcasts, the travel posters, and the various other propaganda elements.  The Stratospheric Aircraft Carrier from the "Team SHED" project also appears, in a poster on the left, "Team SHED" nominally being set in Britannia as well (see the older blog post for more info on this, if you're interested in a real flight of fancy- probably the most science-fiction element in the whole damned project being the idea that British workmanship could build a fully functional flying aircraft carrier, ).

In 2009 I ended up exhibiting some bits from the project at a gallery in Birmingham with a solo show, so took the opportunity to produce some new posters, which featured the same techniques, for example the shots below.

My friend Chris playing the Emperor of Britannia, with various models from the project (and also from another which was running concurrently).  The poster is a reworking of an old WW2 poster which featured Churchill.  The Primeminister, not the dog. 

One of the concepts that was played around with a lot for the exhibition was the radioactive nature of Cumbria, which was in the news at the time with the plans to build new atomic power stations- whilst assisting Amy on a documentary shoot in 2007 which focused on the derelict railways of Cumbria, we spent a lot of time knocking around Sellafield, which has the most wonderful, glorious sandy beaches, completely deserted, with horrible gantries, pipes and towers overshadowing it all.  The whole area was originally planned to be resort to rival Blackpool back in the 1800's, and now its home to some of the largest and most hideously intimidating nuclear installations in the country (security patrols, dead animals on the beach, radioactive waste discharge pipes, CCTV and sentry towers, you name it).  So I decided that in Britannia both would co-exist, with Britannia Railways promoting holidays to this radioactive hell.  To this end I decided to rework those earlier happy-girl-with-a-beachball travel posters into something decidedly more farcical to suit this idea.

My friend Kitty on her first modelling job with me (she being a very talented horror photographer, who at this point hadn't really modelled for other photographers).  Most of the day was spent shooting horror pics, before she ended up standing around in a field posing for fake holiday posters, clutching a pooltoy and wearing a not terribly convincing gas mask acquired from a fancy dress shop.  Still, cant have weirded her out too much, as she has modelled for other stuff, including more mad posters (see further on in this post)...
The final poster was a take on a style used by British Railways in the 60's.  It was deliberately bleached out, and appeared in the final show and the Flogafield diorama built as an exhibit.  The scene is a composite of Kitty, with the beach actually being Barmouth in Wales, with miniatures for the cooling towers, sentry post, barbed wire etc.  The slogan is a nod to Nevil Shutes classic novel "On The Beach" which featured people in Australia waiting for an inevitable death from radioactive fallout, which seemed appropriate in this instance, advertising holidays in a world which is worryingly comfortable with the idea of atomic contamination.

In the period after the model village, I ended up working on a couple of speculative projects, one of which was piece of fan-fiction inspired by one of my all-time favourite films, "28 Days Later", for which I knocked up a false graphic novel cover...  Yes, more scifi using miniatures, to no practical end- 2007-2011 being what I define as my "Stuck in a rut/professional practise defined by that bloody model village" phase.  It came to nothing, and thankfully that particular piece of uncreative-creative writing, with its many copyright infringements has been lost to the glorious and celebrated mists of time (and a laptop hard-drive crash), all that is left being the cover.

The aircraft was, yet again, one of the freelance and aerodynamically questionable jets built for an abandoned collaborative project (well, got to do something with all this tat once you've made it), with a cityscape from the same project, made from bits of random improvised elements such as filing in-trays and birdfeeders.  Nothing like working on a budget of approximately nowt.

The human elements were a little trickier- the squaddie is me, from the Britannia shoots, but the main figure ended up being Kitty again, looking much more comfortable wielding a chainsaw than she did holding a pooltoy.  Kudos to her for not batting an eyelid at weird requests for modelling anyway.

 And then along came the "Century Survey" steampunk stuff, and well, I had the same issue again- needing to set the scene with background items.  Kind of fitted anyway, since it needed to be established that this was an alternate history of Britannia, was set in the same fake universe, so could share similar themes.  A few simple posters were knocked up, which appear scattered throughout the pictures, such as the one below advising people to join up for the Landships- fittingly, its for the 42nd Expeditionary Force; in the model village, the armoured security forces in Cumbria were also the 42nd Strike Force (me being a nerd who produced enough background material to write a novel, there is somewhere a fairly comprehensive false history of this fictional regiment).  The poster was a bit of a lash-up, done in a hurry and just using the basic test-pic of the model which appears elsewhere on this blog.

The poster (and another fake travel poster, featuring Lexi from the model village shoot) pasted onto the side of Salts Mill in the project.  I quite liked seeing people leaning in closer during the exhibition to spot these little details, it kind of justified the sheer amount of bloody effort I'd had to put in designing it all...

So thats that.  Hopefully I'll have some new-ish work on this blog soon- I've got something big in the works at the moment, featuring that Thunderbolt model which is nearly finished...