Hand Written | Hand Made

by Helen Barker

Yesterday I was flicking through this month’s issue of Frieze entitled Still life photography, when I came across an image by Lori Nix entitled “Model for Beauty Shop”. The image stood out as it bore a strong resemblance to an image I had created back in 2007, three years prior to Nix’s. As I began to consider the relationships that formed in my mind between these two images, I was made aware of the working process I’d begun to adopt for the production of my current work. A process which depended heavily on the relationships formed between the formal similarities, and differences, of two or more images.

An article entitled A Peephole Perspective on Tiny Worlds, by Carol Kino, written for NY Times back in July, describes the common thread pulling Nix’s work and the work of other artists together (all of whom create miniature worlds) as environments made to be the subject of a single photograph, or video piece. In other words, the exhibition containing Nix’s model was as much about the otherness of such small, intricate scenes as the captivating pull of the image. In fact the exhibition (entitled ‘Otherworldly’ and held at Museum of Arts and Design, NY) prompted me to re-consider the concerns of my own, similar image of a model room. Was I, too, intrigued by the lure of reality re-defined?

There is a nice opposition between Nix’s image and my own. In the former, the model room is cluttered and the hand is presented as an arranger/maker of the surrounding space. Adding to or altering the environment. This image signals the excess of productivity. In my own image, the hand falls limply to the shrunken floor, gesturing to the empty space around it. Perhaps this hand is symptomatic of the artist as editor, editing out information until only the absolute minimum remains – the gesture of the maker’s hand. The abundant chaos of creative output and the refining definition of understanding go hand in hand!

Going back to my studio I observed the photos I had pinned on the wall, mostly in pairs, and began to search out the motives behind the coupling of these images. The photos were of events and moments in life and had been sourced during a session of ‘sorting-out’…or, maybe, looking for a place to begin. Here is an excerpt from what was written in my notebook on the theme of putting images together to form new compositions. Or – making art!

“It seems there is an obvious interest when pulling at images in order to make some sort of ‘sense’ from them in the relationships formed between the self to the world. Through a sort of flattening out of detail and disruption images are collaged together. Small, formal similarities soon find themselves the infrastructure of a composition. What was once an observed, recognisable feature in two photographs, becomes the necessary crux of their relationship.

What joins these images together is the intentional narrative belonging to the artist. And it is this narrative, formed outside of language, that then finds itself re-invested with the rationalized discourse of criticality. Words take hold of the subjects and attempt to find a home for them in the world. External references, in magpie fashion, draw the images together – from historic events, to songs, literature and memories, the work is framed within a context dependent on the changing nature of time.

Observing the image, I find myself stepping momentarily outside of language in order to better understand it’s significance and assemble its meaning. (A bit like trying to solve a crime by breaking the law?) Once language has been removed, it becomes wholly present and allowed to approach the mystery of its own abstraction.

Nix’s image and my image share a common language. They speak to one another across the great divide of time, they encroach upon the present tense with attributes of the past and the future. When I look at the images on my studio wall I realise they too talk amongst themselves. They talk about what it is to make and to form understanding. As I execute their positioning side by side, I simultaneously witness the final act of having chosen them, and the breaking apart of any conclusion I might have bestowed upon them.”