Thursday, June 11, 2009

Conceptual development of the rats.

Towards the Rat Installation.

Final ballpoint pen drawings of the rat. Preparatory studies in developing the stylised form and shape of the Rat, whilst reviewing possible surface decoration options (considering the shape of the rat to accommodate the transfers - specifically for the installation).

The Nature of the Beast.
Why a rat, you may ask, I have always been fascinated by the little mice carved inconspicuously on the legs and other parts of wooden furniture, one such stool is owned by a dear friend and colleague of mine, Sue Sellschop.Its is quite possibly the work of the great master, the famous 1920' carpenter, Robert Thompson himself. One of his assistants apparently termed the phrase "that we are all poor as church mice". This then became his trademark. Ian Johnston, a colleague at UJ, reaffirmed this aspect of my choice of the rodent, when he mentioned that mice always lurk amongst the pots and the pans in the home, including the crockery, a perfect vehicle therefore for its symbolic use as defined by JC Cooper in his Encyclopedia of Symbols.

The rat (actually the fleas it carrried), was the major vehicle for spreading the disease amongst humans during the Black Plaque, it is a symbol of the underworld, of destruction, of evil, rarely seen in Renaissance Art. It is a plague animal, a symbol of death, decay, and the powers of darkness. In Christianity it is a symbol for the devil. Last year was the Chinese year of the rat - the year I embarked on the development of the concept for the rat installation - the next phase of the development; in preparation for an exhibition in August.

Preparatory ballpoint pen drawings of the rat - refining the form and shape of the rat (innovative and creative response to the sources of inspiration), drawing inspiration from ceramic factory products manufactured in Germany (refer to drawings below and photographic images of the actual products in the previous blog entry.

Drawings of ceramic ornaments featuring rats. I normally work directly from nature, but in this case, I needed to link it closer to ceramic history, especially products designed for manufacture - to ensure that the viewer would make the connection with its ornamental qualities (desirable) complimented by the decorative surfaces. Photographic images of the inspirational ceramic products (drawn here) are posted in the previous blog entry.

Thematic inspiration for the rat installation
When I was in India a few years ago, signing MOUs for collaboration between the faculty of Art, design and Architecture and NID, NIFT and NISTADs, I was watching a documentary on the black Plaque of 1348, trying to establish a metaphorical link with AIDS. However it was the response of the religious fanatics that caught my attention most - their reaction was similar during the first phase of the aids pandemic, especially their abuse of gays when AIDS first spread amongst the gay community in the early 80s, Gods wrath and vengeance against their chosen lifestyle. The church lost all its authority during the plaque which gave rise to fanatics; a reaction to the evil psychological impact of the disease. the religious sect, termed flagellants, went on a mission; traumatising society (even blaming the Jews) already struck with fear (impact of the disease, half the population died), speaking out at lechery and a call to greater devotion and piety. Therefore the idea of a ceramic rat to be imbued with symbols of confrontation; an ideal module for slip casting.

Integrating the forms and surfaces.
I always use the evocative nature of the written word, text and or symbolism to develop concepts, even for the surfaces - writing down the creative options (a mind map shown above). I have always felt that in some instances the the size of the ceramic sculpture and or ornament is unable carry the weight of the meaning of the piece.

The meaning, purpose and significance of the signs and symbols in the use of transfers (printed image) and the sgraffito technique - with reference to Tattoos.

We live in a society no less tolerant, plagued by fanatics on all fronts (as mentioned before in many blog entries); a direct response to issues brought about by globalisation. Films have always had a significant impact on my work. For the purpose of this particlular blog entry, the films, American History X, The Believer and Eastern Promises (seen last night ). I have also become fascinated by society's present interest and tollerance of insignia on the body (Prevalent in the two of the above mentioned films) - purchasing numerous books on Tattoos, one in particular stands out, Written on the body, edited by Jane Caplan. This is an historical account of contemporary thought on the subject, approached from a number of viewpoints including, an anthropological, sociological and cultural studies perspective. The use of images, symbols and signs is therefore linked to the interaction or play between the "interior"and "exterior"aspects of tattoo. continued below.

Russian Tattoo. Image taken from Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia, Page 367. Strict Regime Corrective Labour Collony No.40 Kungur, Perm Region. 1991. The tattoo"curses on the Communist Gents for my Withered Youth, belongs to convicts who blame the communist regime for their ruined lives (pg 63). Sistine Madonna tattoos express a yearning for women.

Why Tattoos as inspiration and reference - concept behind surface development.

Caplan states that, "The tattoo occupies a kind of boundary status on the skin, and this is paralleled by its cultural use as a marker of difference, and index of inclusion and exclusion" (Caplan, 2000,XI). Even the book of revelations (Christian Bible) refers to the need for the relevant "mark" as signifier for redemption when the Messiah returns.
In my quest for appropriate ceramic surfaces, I tried to draw inspiration from ceramic traditions, rather than a Fine Art approach. I needed to find a link between the expressive and the decorative function, hence an investigation into ceramic transfers; a creative response to the evocative status and meaning of the tattoo. Continued below.

Russian Tattoo, Image taken from Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia, Page 355, Strict Regime Corrective Labour Colony No.14 Tuksinka Settlement, Sverdlovsk Region, 1992. This colony houses especially dangerous criminals with repeated convictions. Their tattoos tell the stories of their life in imprisonment.

Why specifically the Russian prison tattoos"

It was the tattoos of prison life that fascinated me at first -"the convicts body acts like a genuine traitor or executioner towards its owner, since the tattooed body cannot lie. The body pronounces its own sentence, condemns itself to suffering. It is only the body that the thief can trust, only the body that cannot lie" (Plutser -Sarno.A, 2006.39).

Just like Russion Prison Tattoos the surface decoation is a means to secret communication - Why the secrecy?

I have always been interested in the tacticle and decorative opportunties of ceramics, however , never exploited its true potential in my work as explained above. The viewer is drawn to the ceramic product (in this case ceramic ornament) in terms of its decorative and ornamental qualities incorporated in the ceramic forms and surface decoration. My ceramic pieces were always much larger (sculptural) - commercial transfers would probably not have worked well. More recently I have down scaled the works to function on the level as ceramic ornaments embracing a decoarative and expressive function. Therein lies the opportunity; to lure the viewer; to engage the obscured expressive function. The surface decoration (transfers and sgraffito signs and symbols) like their tattooed counterparts, dont lie - they give ultimate meaning to the piece - with repulsive consequences to the viewer.

Russian Tattoo. Image taken from Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia, Page 36. Applied forcibly to a passive homosexual, in the Pskov City corrective labour camp, as the caption in the enlarged image explains.

Detailed view of surface development on the rats. Closer observation will reveal black images of woman; black transfers of stylised Russian tattoos - sources and or origins of these images are enclosed below.

The actual meaning and significance of the chosen images and heart shapes for the decals.

Russian prison tattoos are complex images at the interface of linguistic, visual, social, communicative and psychological contexts. It is this aspect that I tried to exploit in developing decorative yet expressive surface options. In this preliminary ceramic exploratory works (above) I made use of a combination of floral transfers, including the pansy, roses and for-get-me-nots (the significance thereof explained in a previous blog entry dated), cut into heart shapes (the symbolic meaning explained below) before applying them to the bottoms of the rats, contrasting sharply with the gold and silver lustre stiletto and or weapon like shaped tails of the confrontational rats. Their nose tips painted gold and silver lustre (echoing their tails) - ready to engage their counterparts, like dogs, it enables them to sniff at eachother backsides to determine there true identity (hence the fact that the stylised insignia is placed on the bottoms of the rodents).

Russian Tattoo forcibly applied. Image taken from Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia. Krasnoyarsk camps, 1956. Back.

Significance of the Heart and other insignia continued.

In both instances the Russian tattoos and my ceramic transfers have nothing to do with flowers or cold steel (weapons). The heart shaped transfers and sgraffito insignia is directly linked to one of the tattoos applied forcibly to the back of the Russian prisoners (above). The thief preys on other offenders - the gays and child molesters that are at the bottom of the pyramid in prison life. They are bullied, abused and or terrorised in the most horrific ways. The tattoo above depicts a heart and an anus. It came from a man convicted of pederasty. He was used by prisoner for fellatio and a passive homosexual. The heart is both a symbol of God's love, shared humanity and the abuse of thereof (by Authority).

A Russian Tattoo of a passive homosexual. Corrective Labour Colony No 5 Leningrad. 1971. Image taken from Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia, Page 163.
A woman holding an apple in her hand with a snake winding round her, symbolising experience from an early age. This is a tattoo of a passive homosexual, worn on the back. It is sometimes applied forcibly.

Tattoo worn by a passive homosexual.
The tattoo therefore is the manifestation of who you really are, Alexei Plutser - Sarno sates "that it is a movement away from the "reality" of the ordinary (naked body) towards the symbolic body. It is as if there is nothing of value inside the prisoner and the value is on the surface" (Plutser- Sarno, 2006.49).

"These sculptural and landscape elements on a man's body indicate that the body itself is regarded as an incomplete object, the substance of which must be used to create the prisoner or to destroy him. we are dealing here with a ritual act of dehumanisation of the body"( Plutser- Sarno A, 2006.51).


Anonymous said...

eugene... it is way too much to take in and respond to in a "comment". i love your work and i love your process and the drawings are just plain dreamy. i was gonna stew on yesterday's post before commenting and today there's all this stuff about prison tattoos, rat symbolism, religion and such a smooth continuum of thought and concept straight through to execution (of the pieces) and the manner of their photography. i would enjoy having a beer and chatting with you, of that i'm sure. i'm also wondering if your drawings will accompany the mice and rats in your exhibition. i assume they are but either way i really admire them. kinda wish there was a swastika on one of those mice and i understand that as iconography goes, it is too overloaded with meaning but i always loved it as a visual symbol and was forlorn that it had been appropriated for the use everyone knows it for... anyway maybe the geometry of it on the mouse's ass just looked great in the drawing. i feel like i'm rambling. your work is provocative and excellent. beautiful too.

Eugene Hon said...

Jim thanks for your comments - I was the first to graduate with a Masters in Fine Art in Ceramics at UCT in Cape Town. I was not allowed to make any domestic ware and most certainly no permitted to apply any decoration. Hence all the justification, meaning and explaining the significance of decoration etc. Over compensating, as if my professor is looking over my solder. No my blog will form part of a staff exhibition in October at our Gallery - to accompany a rat installation (process related). A Faculty staff member is doing an interview on my work (process) for the Faculty Research paper - I obviously over compensated on my blog - in anticipation of her interrogation. I have done allot of reading over the past two years, to explore various conceptual directions - to find my niche in the making. I luv conceptualising and drawing and having done textile design at school, I have always wanted to find a fine art approach in dealing with the ceramic surface. It seems to be all coming together for me in the rats. Having fun, glad you are enjoying it too. Fine art is such a self indulgent and self obsessed creative experience. Narrowing down the research field in contemporary Fine Art practice has its limitation in terms of viewer appeal. I am trying to bridge that gap. When one is in the business of making meaning (in the 21st century)and the need to share it - is quite something.