Our flying shapes the sky
Artist talk by Lynne Cameron
6 July 2017 Cinepoetics, Freie Universität Berlin
This exhibition is a thank you to Cinepoetics for the last two years – for the rich environment, for the ideas, for the friendships, for the provocations. My Fellowship and Residency have given me time, and wonderful spaces to reflect, to experiment, to work.
What you see exhibited is a small fraction of the paper and canvas I have covered in this time. A metonym for the doing, thinking, making that has been inspired by being here. The work shown is mostly new, with some that may be familiar from earlier exhibitions. Some of what is here is completed. Some of it is very much ‘in progress’ and exploratory. Endings, it seems are also beginnings.
Each collection on display is a set of responses through mark-making / painting / visual images to being ‘resident’ – in Berlin, in the apartment, in the studios at Cinepoetics. As a painter, I find my work responsive in a very experiential, non-verbal and even non-conscious way, to changing light and the colours of the seasons – the greens of early spring out of the studio window; the vivid orange-gold of autumn lining the roads I drive along. As a painter, and as a cinema-goer and as a woman, I responded to the films we watched. As a painter, an academic and a woman, I responded both visually and intellectually to people, to interactions participated in, and to ideas I’ve met here. The responses have been made in sketchbooks, journals, with photos on iphone, on paper, on canvas. They inform and influence each other. They afford possibilities to each other and connect with work done before coming here. They lead to artworks.
Before I go into more detail about the work, I revisit key concepts that lie behind it.
Poiesis, poetics and the presence of absence
At the start, it wasn’t entirely clear what an artist in residence, a painter, might offer to advanced film studies. Before leaving the UK, I wrote a proposal that left things rather open but which suggested that poiesis, i.e. bringing into being something that did not exist before, might serve as a connection between my work and the work of Cinepoetics. – The particular approach to understanding film viewing that underpins Cinepoetics sees the viewing experience be a kind of poiesis. And during my residency I have tried to open up the poiesis of making and viewing painting to colleagues.
For me, making art is also a poetic act, and so I want to include a few words on ‘the poetic’ and to add the idea of the poetic to poiesis. The poetic for me concerns understanding that lies beyond words. Poetic making is a bringing into being of a meaning, an experience or affect that cannot be fixed or finalised. Importantly for those of us dwell in a world of words, this meaning / experience / affect cannot be adequately expressed or communicated through verbal language. It somehow lives and arises in the spaces between words.
We had a great example of the poetic in a recent Studio Interlude. Looking at a colleague’s abstract painting, someone said, “I can see birds in a sky but I couldn’t show you where there is a bird”. She was trying to verbalise the feeling that the painting created for her, out of colour, form, texture.
This poetic potential is why I love painting and making art – the making is an experience that goes beyond words, and sharing the work is an offer to viewers of the work of affordances for poetic meaning / experience / affect.
As an aside re my old love, metaphor I have this to say: Metaphor is the trope that does the poetic for a living, par excellence. And that’s why people sometimes conflate metaphorising with poetic thinking. In contrast, I require these to be distinct, and overlapping.
Metaphor comes to act as emblem for poetic thinking, to serve metonymically, as synecdoche, but metaphor and poetic thinking are not the same thing, and not always the same kind of thing. Unlike poetic thinking, metaphorising happens in the most everyday or prosaic thinking, as Lakoff and Johnson reminded us back in 1980 with examples such as career ladders. What happened next was another process of metonymy; after broadening the scope of metaphor, the poetic was again conflated with metaphorising, leaving us with a broadened notion of the poetic (all our thinking is therefore poetic). In my opinion as an artist, this has been an unhelpful broadening. I want to preserve some sense of ‘poetic’ as aesthetically appealing. I judge this sense to be inexpressible and thus impossible to define. Perhaps its inexpressible complexity is due to it being at the same time experiential and embodied, individual and socially constructed.
The notion of the poetic as unfinalizable, experienced and inexpressible, felt and unsayable, leads me to think in terms of spaces between, of alterity or otherness. In painting, I long ago discovered the metaphoric potential of using negative space in composition. I linked it to the watery variant of ‘va’ which is Samoan word to describe the ocean space between land masses, knowing which is vital for surviving on a Pacific archipelago.
With a chance rediscovery here in Berlin of existentialism, of de Beauvoir and Sartre, I came across Sartre’s idea of the presence of absence … and found this a beautiful, rich metaphor for the poetic as inexpressible meaning / experience / affect, induced in the space between colours on a canvas, between artist and painting, between painting and viewer. This is not a space of incomprehension but a space of extra meaning / experience / affect, of mysterious unsayable meaning / experience / affect that somehow matters to us. Adding this notion of the poetic to poeisis, we can see that making and viewing artworks, and films requires us to dispense with the goal of clarity and understanding, of determining a ‘meaning’ or even an interpretation. We can value the presence of its absence.
Lately I have resurrected the use of the tilde symbol ~ in my writing about art. I’ve long used it in writing about metaphorising as Topic ~ Vehicle unfinalizable, experienced and inexpressible, felt and unsayable. Now I have recruited it to express a wider sense of a more open ‘holding’ of the multiple and contrasting, without verbalising explicit connections, without trying to find a resolution. The tilde ~ indicates a suspending of the intention to speak a resolution into existence.
Now as I give you a ‘tour’ of the work in the exhibition, you will see how these ideas inform the work.
One of the delights of my stay has been the Studio Interludes. I wrote this into my proposal before coming. I had no idea what would happen. I started with the simple plan of inviting colleagues into my studio every week or so to see what I was doing, to talk about it and to have a go at some art-making.
It turned into lively collaborative work and some exciting individual productions. We became a group, contributed activities to the workshops, encountered artists and their styles, tried painting, collaging, and put on several small exhibitions.
Over the final six weeks, a small group have been documenting what we did and producing a collective response to the experience of Studio Interludes.
Upstairs in my studio, you can see the outcome and some of the work, and talk to participants. There’s a chance to look again at the large works we made together. Do visit them – you may be surprised by what has been achieved.
Conversations with films
My sketchbook and black pen goes everywhere with me. Into the dark too.
In the first year, we watched films and film clips in colloquia and workshops, analysing metaphors and developing the idea of ‘cinematic metaphor’ that will have an important impact on metaphor studies through the book that’s being written now. Then, with the wonderful new screening room, came film analytical colloquia. A focus away from metaphor and into affect, genre, politics and poetics.
Screenings forced me to write notes and draw striking images in the dark, illuminated only by light from the screen. The pages often looked a mess rather than poetic. But I began to notice how overlapping writing made interesting shapes and how some of rapid lines and marks I made as notes from the film were interesting, in themselves and in relation to words.
I downloaded film stills and explored cutting out and collaging. I experimented too with responding to the early films with paint on paper, and with animation effects in powerpoint, where my technical expertise acquired as an academic could come into conversation with art-making. Then came the offer of music to add a sound track. The exhibition launches two short movies with newly composed music by Dr Eileen Rositzka: Notes in the Dark and Conversations with Jezebel.
Conversations with theory
In lectures, colloquia, workshops, meetings, jours fixes, there is light enough to see my sketchbook pages. Not always metaphorical light enough for me to make sense – as a scholar from social sciences meeting philosophy and humanities head-on. Sometimes it has felt like a pummelling, sometimes like being in a fog, and usually interesting. I get glimpses of insight, blinking lights that signal a connection with my work or reading. These experiences took shape on the page as I wrote down concepts to remember, names to search out, and as I doodled around the words while listening.
Again these pages were not initially intended as artworks. The poetic possibilities emerged over time. In acts of downward causation, I began to notice how I filled the page, doing more of what looked good. Some days nothing happened. There seemed to be a particularly rich period for these pages in the summer and autumn of 2016.
Visiting bookshops, I noticed a resonance (a connection that is a reminding, not analogical, metaphorical) with a recent craze for adult colouring books and saw a sudden potential. So today I am pleased to offer you a kind of souvenir booklet that you can colour in at your leisure.
Pushing the boundaries: a series of dynamic paintings
While in Berlin, I developed a style/technique of painting that I call ‘dynamic painting’. I had taken a course in intuitive painting, online from California, as I attempted to hear my intuition after years of ignoring it in order to be a scholar… It has been the biggest shift for me in my time here- taking this seriously as a method and taking the artworks that emerge seriously too. Around the end of 2016, I noticed that I had produced a series of large paintings on paper that echo the sketchbook doodles. There was no initial concept for these; as dynamic paintings, they begin from colour and move into a dialogue of mark-making. Post-hoc they seem to echo the concept of, sometimes difficult, ‘conversations with ideas’. This collection exemplifies what I call the emergent poetic.
Recent paintings on paper and on canvas
see the catalogue
Launching the book I paint~
I am delighted to be able to share with you my latest publication and artwork, and an important ‘bringing into being’ of my residency. It is very different from my books on metaphor analysis, although perhaps follows on, in some way, from the poetic final chapter of Metaphor and Reconciliation.
The poiesis of the book originates in the process of dynamic painting described above. And addresses a long term issue of how words might combine with images in my art-making. I had tried making art out of my empathy research, and from spoken interview data. Eventually I went abstract, started from colour, and let the paintings speak for themselves. But while making dynamic paintings, I discovered words and phrases arising in my head/body. Some wanted to be included on the paper. Others were written into a painting journal.
As a senior woman academic, and as a woman talking with other women, I find myself often asking women why they are hiding their voices and thoughts, choosing to remain silent. In a very concrete way (and as a metaphor), I notice that we often keep the art we make that has most meaning for us under the bed or shut in a cupboard. I have done that. And I noticed that I was doing it again – the ‘poems’ stayed in the journal, unspoken. I determined to bring them into the light. Very slowly, I started reading them, typing them, speaking them aloud. It was hard to do because these are quite personal responses. But working as an artist pushes us to draw deep on what matters to us, to be vulnerable.
The work was affected by my re-visiting of existentialist ideas during my stay here. Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex was a revelation, and a challenge. She seemed to shine a searchlight on my history, on what was influencing my becoming a woman in post-war Britain, and that searchlight still illuminates our becoming as women. She writes about the physical limitations, fears and modesty that we are taught from a young age and that can hold us back from achievement. Her challenge became a goading into action to put this book together.
A bout six months before I came to Berlin, a woman appeared in the paintings. Her name was Scarlet and her appearance in paintings speaks to Simone’s ideas. I leave you to experience the conversations of Scarlet and Simone, of paintings and poems
Eventually I collected together 47 painting~poem artworks and put them together into this book, with the help of Symark design studio.
The book is on sale here.
The title of the exhibition- Our flying shapes the sky - comes from one of the paintings in the book. It encapsulates poetic thinking with echoes of meaning, hints of complex dynamic systems in interaction, of the deep joy of making art. I am so happy and grateful to have spent this time with Cinepoetics. Enjoy the show!
essay from the living impulse Exhibition catalogue
Countenancing Beauty: The paintings of Lynne Cameron
written by Steve Wright, curator of the exhibition 'The Living Impulse', London, June 2014.
There are two kinds of painter: those who work out a painting in advance; and those who discover what it’s going to be through making it. Lynne Cameron is one of the latter, her approach both purposeful and flexible. There are clear ideas, interests and intentions, informed by Cameron’s academic research into empathy and metaphor; there is also paint. As a painter, I’m most interested in how these works have been made and how we should look at them.
‘The Living Impulse’ brings together different kinds of painting that represent stages in Cameron’s recent development; like all really interesting artists, she doesn’t stand still. Indeed, it’s by changing the nature of our artworks that artists find out what we’re really interested in, because something always stays the same, however divergent the various avenues we explore.
One unifying element is Cameron’s colour. Here is an artist unafraid of colour, though increasingly exploring its subtleties. Her palette derives from the places and people she has encountered and is firmly rooted in the present by her use of fluorescent acrylic paint. She is at her best when her colours have been liberated from their original context and can interact with each other without having to describe a landscape or object. In the series A Wonder World for Enid, the same intense hues of her abstract paintings are contained and controlled by subsequent layers of ethereal greys that soften or conceal the underpainting. To the painter, grey can be the most beautiful of colours.
The enquiring, intelligent nature of these works marks them out as ‘serious’ paintings, although Cameron’s willingness to allow them to be beautiful goes against the grain of contemporary art theory and education, which favour the cerebral over the aesthetic. But, as Cameron says, beauty is anything but easy to achieve. It requires an understanding of the medium; a sensitivity to nuances of colour and surface texture, brushstroke and drip. Moreover, the painter must create something original that won’t immediately strike the well-informed viewer as similar to something already seen. This is where the narratives underlying these paintings are so important: they lead the artist to do specific things with particular colours, in a certain format that become something new. There are influences here, including Emil Nolde and Hans Hofmann – but they inform rather than dictate the work, whose nature remains experimental and personal.
All of these works derive from ideas about communication and situations where it has broken down, whether from inter-tribal conflict in Kenya or the debilitating effects of dementia. Looking at Lynne Cameron’s paintings, it is important to remember that painting, though a means of communication is non-verbal. To appreciate them, look closely at their colours and surfaces, at the spaces in-between forms and flowers, at the glimpses of submerged layers, asking how it was achieved and what it might mean – but don’t look for clear answers. As Edward Hopper observed, “If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.”
Steve Wright www.stevewrightart.com