Research Project: Tactics for Not Knowing

Project Proposal:

Intend using natural materials to enhance art and intending in making art accessible to the visually impaired.

Introduction:

Natural resources encourage the observer to observe closely and use all their senses. My intention of my works is to produce tactile pieces of art works, which I create with the intention of sharing a message with both a sighted and non-sighted audience.

I am studying art at a university and have exhibited, run and attend shows on tactile art as I dedicate much of my time to the visually impaired.

I myself am a visually impaired artist and art student and I witness at first hand many difficulties that the blind and visually impaired suffer when trying to both engage with and research the world of art.

Through providing an interesting and ever-changing environment for the blind and visually impaired to explore art, I believe, is an ideal way to develop their curiosity, provide opportunities for them to ask questions, and to talk about things they have discovered.

It also opens the door on sight-loss to those without sight loss and encourages those with full use of their senses to look at art in a different way and actually really see art in all its glory.

Making art from and utilising nature involves utilising various elements of nature (such as leaves, sticks, stones, bones, sand, water, etc.) in a creative way to make a new art object or piece of art. The resulting artworks will hopefully make a statement about both nature and humanity’s relationship to nature.

This was the way we originally made art. Using natural materials to create art harkens back to the Stone Age, when Prehistoric people would use organic and mineral based pigments, such as metal oxides and iron, to make marks on cave walls.

chauvet-cave-rhino

Fast forward several thousand years and now these pigments are commercially available in tubes, jars and bottles. Most contemporary artists are far removed from the process of actually making their own paint. The same can be said for paintbrushes, whose main elements were initially natural – hairs from horses, camels, pigs and squirrel to form the bristles, and wood to form the handle. These days many paintbrushes contain synthetic hairs and plastic handles.

Today’s art supplies are a combination of natural and synthetic materials. Making art from nature takes a giant leap over this extra step of manufactured art supplies, and returns to the essence of the earth itself as a material for art making.

My art will attempt to bridge the gap by incorporating a combination of natural and man-made materials. These works will be created by hand- incorporating natural materials. This will be an ephemeral series of art works that will fall apart over time as the leaves and organic materials within dry up, turned brown, and crumble. The pieces will be an exploration in the use of unconventional natural materials to make a work of art that would change over time.

I have started by building up a collection of natural resources found in my immediate environment (namely my back gardens).

Leaves, twigs and interesting stones can be found almost anywhere and made the ideal basis for a ‘naturals’ collection. These will then supplemented with interesting and unusual items from other parts of the country, or further afield.

The range of natural materials I intend to use included:

  • a variety of leaves including simple and compound leaves, leaves with stripes and patterns, leaves of different colours and shades, leaves with interesting textures and scented leaves
  • bark and twigs from a variety of trees, cut sections of wood and short lengths of pine showing grain and knots
  • fruits and vegetables that are interesting to look at and to handle
  • seeds of different sizes, shapes and colours, pods with seeds still in them and cones of different shapes and sizes
  • Rocks of different colours, shapes, sizes; pebbles and small smooth stones of different colours and shapes; samples of sand in varied colours and graininess.

Health and safety

As with any other resources, I needed to ensure that the natural materials I use are safe to be used with the blind and young children. I am particularly careful as the blind and young children are likely to put the natural resources in their mouths, or to their lips, or indeed put their fingers in their mouths after touching. I will be careful to remove sharp edges and try to bind the ingredients under a varnish layer to reduce risk.

My Practical ideas to-date

  • I add carefully selected natural materials, such as a large seed pod, shells and large polished stones
  • Natural materials I found are perfect resources for use in assisting in helping the blind develop their creative and critical thinking skills. A selection of interesting cones, pods, dried whole fruits and wicker balls provided many opportunities to develop their conceptual understanding of big and little, same and different, long and short, few and many, heavy and light.
  • My works I hope encourage the observer who is not visually impaired to pay closer attention to shades of colours.
  • I made a collection of sand collected from a range of different places. This helps the sighted and visually impaired to notice the variations in colour and texture and I would provide magnifiers so that they can look more closely at the grains that make up the sand.
  • I added natural materials such as twigs, straw, pebbles and moss to my works.
  • Natural materials I found can be used very creatively to produce designs and collages. All that I required was a selection of natural materials and an area in which to produce the design. This varied from a tray, a plain coloured table mat, a flat mirror, a large piece of white paper or a sheet spread out on the ground. The important thing about this activity was that the resources were not glued down, so the designs were transient. Things could be moved around and changed and at the end I was able to choose my design and proceed to secure and glue, paint and varnish it.
  • I found that my photographs were an ideal way to retain a record of the creations I have made.
  • I added a range of natural building resources such as large stones, chicken wire, shells, small branches, off-cuts of wood and pieces of bark into the construction area. This encouraged me to be more creative in my building and extended the range of problems I had to solve as I explore how to build with irregular shaped materials.

Why I Now Love Tactile Art?

Tactile art is a great way that art is able to share a message and I can communicate with my audience, as it screams out “Touch Me”, and “You Can”.

I believe getting to touch and feel a piece of art (regardless of being visually impaired, or not), is so important because it helps the audience to see it and appreciate it in a new way.

About My Works to-date:

This blog site displays samples of my tactile works to-date and each piece of work has an individual and separate write up displayed publically in: https://wordpress.com/posts/raithart.wordpress.com

However, in summary, my works are not just about my ideas and concepts; they are also about the experiences of the people who interact with it. For me, these pieces of art will be completed when people engage with them.

This series of work is based upon this belief.

Why Create These Pieces?

I am driven to create these pieces as a result of my changing experiences of art engagement by being encourage more to use my sensory experiences to a greater level and as a consequence I felt that I started to learn more about myself and how I fitted into the world.

I believe that tactile/visual art has allowed me to expand my understanding of how others with sensory differences effectively approach the world with equality to those that have full use of all senses by using alternative methods.

To me, it’s a fun and new way to see!

What’s will it personally have achieved?

These works will have made me dedicated to making art more accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired. If we make art available to be touched and smelt freely.

I feel it’s our responsibility as artists to do just that and it has been intriguing so far, to produce pieces of works for both the visually impaired and fully sighted to appreciate at the same time.

What inspires these works?

The works will have grown from inside me over many years.

It’s only recently however, that I’ve decided to make my tactial art accessible, having previously concentrated (with great acclaim I add), with more traditional fine art, landscape, watercolours.

Why’s It Unique toMe?

For these pieces I will have in some cases sacrificed the visual in favour of the tactile when I felt I feel I came up against a design conflict that I couldn’t resolve.

Eventually, I found that whilst making my initial works, that by making them more poetic, by streamlining and eliminating visual clutter, I was free from running into visual/tactile design conflicts.

Who Inspired Me?

I have been inspired by artists such as Rachael Dein, who is based in London and who creates raised plaster art pieces inspired by nature and plant life and indeed, as you see from my initial methods of creating “Touch and Smell My Curves”, “The Hand” and “Life Trapped in a Brick”, they contain natural organic materials.

Organic materials, both she and I, agree are a great way of preserving natural beauty, whilst at the same time giving it life by allowing everyone to touch and feel it.

Another inspiring artist is Heather Bowring, based in Portsmouth who replicates paintings, but makes them tactile. I was inspired by her tactile replica of “Whaam” that had originally been produced by Roy Lichtenstein. 

Methodology: How will I construct my future works?

All these works will be constructed from waste materials and organic matter.

The items found to-date are:

  • Old chicken wire
  • Left over fence paint
  • Leaves
  • Gass
  • Mud
  • Slate
  • Sand
  • Stones
  • Pebbles
  • Old tins of varnish

Methodology: How will I construct continued:

I will leave some of the works outside in the elements for several days and let nature and the natural elements of weathering take its course with wet, drying, bleaching, etc.

I will finally finish by adding the varnish to the works as a long term bonding agent and on the grounds of health and safety (discussed earlier).

Will I be Happy With The Outcomes?

I am very happy with the outcomes of my initial works as I think that what I have created so far are unique and have grown from within myself, it’s almost as if something trapped inside got out and from the look of these works, we could either say they are alien, cancerous or many other things, but they needed to be allowed outside of me and into the world.

The question is “do they belong in this world”, and unfortunately I feel unable to give an answer and will let the observer decide.

Where Should These Works Be Displayed and In What Setting, when finished?

As they will not be designed to necessarily be visually appealing, the issue of lightning and location does not come to the fore.

These works will be from nature, of nature, represents nature and are to be touched, felt and played with and observing will not be all about seeing as discussed earlier.

They will be equally at home in the dark as in the light, but as nature will have made them, they should sit alone near a window to be with nature, as nature will cast its natural shadows, lights and darkness onto these works.

What Would I Do Differently in my Final Pieces from my preliminary works?

Nothing, as they are all unique one off pieces that grow within and will soon all be out and the process is to let my projects grow and explode out of me.

I am hoping you’ll all enjoy and feel free to touch my works.

Word count: 2,045

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