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…

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