2 Nov 2013

Contexts Presentation & Lifestyle Discussion

I usually try and keep my posts down to a smaller word count but this post is centered around some quite important issues to me and also some revelations I came to whilst working on my recent presentation for University and I felt it was useful to discuss them here as they give some context to my work and blog. I hope you can take the time to have a read through! 

Japan, travel, collage, scrapbook, scan, black and white, travelling, traveling, journey, found object, notes, abstract, fragments, revaluations, questioning normality, revolution, individuals

What I have written down here is actually something I wrote for uni. Along with that to space it out a little and add some visual content I have added some collages I made recently as part of my visual representation of my contexts presentation and developing it into part of my practice. I I intend to develop these collages into a zine to represent my trip to Japan and also the ideas represented here. 

If you would like to read more about my trip to Japan the link is here: 
Tokyo, Japan. October 2013

Japan, travel, collage, scrapbook, scan, black and white, travelling, traveling, journey, found object, notes, abstract, fragments, revaluations, questioning normality, revolution, individuals

Moving on from my contexts presentation and also some other things that happened to coincide with that (trip to Tokyo and becoming a vegetarian) subsequently I realised a few things about my practice and myself and came to understand than in fact my practice is a much wider issue than I had first considered and reflected more of my personal beliefs, politics and personality than I had expected or intended. That exploring and the idea of perceiving the city in a different and more aware manner has become my way of expressing those larger concerns and that although my ideas have expanded and have potential to produce a bigger project and spiral out of control, I understand that I have been interested in these things all along and now I have realised the connections I can still base my practice on Urbex but that this gives me a wider source of reference and understanding of my goals, messages and motives.

Japan, travel, collage, scrapbook, scan, black and white, travelling, traveling, journey, found object, notes, abstract, fragments, revaluations, questioning normality, revolution, individuals

I happened to do my contexts presentation the day after we decided to go vegetarian, and that in itself made me feel different, like a weight had been lifted and I suddenly became more aware of issues I had been ignorant too and enjoyed that sense of awareness. I chose a contexts subject I was passionate about and one I have first hand experience with. “Embracing complexity: Getting lost on purpose”. Looking at the difference between a tourist and a traveller, the idea of going somewhere and getting lost in the complexity of a new culture, a new place and new country, embracing all that information and in the process learning and developing a knowledge and understanding. But instead many only leave their countries to visit non place outcrops of their own culture gated away from the real place in the tourist complex that creates fear, distance and barriers. It creates a denial of that location, its people, its food and its culture; it prevents interactions, observations and connections and leads to ignorance and fear. These places are sold to use as luxury and safety, but really they are a way to control and condition it’s occupants for the benefit of consumerism and complicity. And yet people believe this because it is “normal”, it is never questioned, just followed, and those that do, they are labelled “Crazy” or “hippies” as a defense mechanism, because once you question one normality, how can you not question every other? Bringing into play much wider politics of which I hadn't realised at the time I was referencing in this work. After the presentation David suggested to me some reading of a socialist and anti-capitalist nature. This surprised me initially as I had imagined this presentation as a separate issue and although I realise it connects to my principals had no idea how strongly my political beliefs came across too. This in a sense pleased me as I want my work to be about things that mean something to me and represent my ideas and believes, and to know I have done that without really trying to gives me the sense that my work is coming together and I am beginning to see the connections.

Japan, travel, collage, scrapbook, scan, black and white, travelling, traveling, journey, found object, notes, abstract, fragments, revaluations, questioning normality, revolution, individuals

As I mentioned at the start me and my husband decided to become vegetarians just before the presentation (the night before, as you do!), again, at the time I saw no real connection to my work or other beliefs other than the fact I have always been a animal lover and believed in equality. But as I “came out” to my family and friends their responses made me realise that there was a massive connection and made me have somewhat of a revelation which in fact as I began to think about it extended back into my childhood.  My mum’s response was “You are just trying to be controversial”, this hit me on two levels and part of me was annoyed and part of me proud of this. I was initial annoyed as I felt it was brushing what was, to me, a massive issue to the side as some sort of teenage rebellion cry for attention and also puzzled to as to how this could even be considered as controversial. I mean, to me eating meat has always been controversial and hypocritical. But I realised the controversy lies in the fact that it is again questioning normality and going against something people just take for granted without even thinking about, because they don’t want to think about it. The issues with meat are undeniable and I believe most people are aware of the suffering and pain associated with it, but chose to numb themselves to this via the disconnection the neatly packed supermarket and adverts give off. They say such things as “I know, but don’t tell me because I like my meat.” They know they are ignorant but for a better phrase ‘can’t be bothered’ to make the changes necessary because it goes against normality. In my experience as stated before, once you start to question norms you cannot then be ignorant to the others and this is the problem, it creates a chain reaction to wholesale lifestyle and ideology changes that people are too lazy to want to deal with and is why they are so easy to control. I have no doubt my decision to not eat meat was no coincidence to the issues I had been tackling in my contexts and practice work and felt the natural progression as I have also seen in others interested in similar issues. People on the whole don’t realise the power we have as consumers, if we all stopped buying meat, well, they wouldn't sell it, but we are conditioned from childhood to believe we need it to survive, as the familiar response goes “where do you get your protein” this just proves this ignorance. 

Japan, travel, collage, scrapbook, scan, black and white, travelling, traveling, journey, found object, notes, abstract, fragments, revaluations, questioning normality, revolution, individuals

After this revelation I began thinking back about other decisions I have made throughout my life and how this has at times made me into somewhat of a ‘misfit’, I have always been different and most definitely misunderstood at times. Sometimes I have thrived on this and made it my identity, other times I have felt marginalised and alone. To begin with as a young girl I was always more interested in building tree houses and playing with action men than barbies (shaping my future as a feminist and my hatred of gender stereotypes), my first passion was football, which being the early 90’s was not what it is for girls now. I had to play on teams with boys and even pretend I was a boy to be able to play. Whilst at primary school I held a one person protest against mandatory skirt wearing and questioned the religious propaganda we were being fed (this was a Church of England school) and was immediately labelled as disruptive and told I was slow and needed “special help”. Made to sit my exams in another room to everyone else and told I would fail, I actually got the best marks in my year. Then came high school where I was the only “mosher” and became passionate about metal music and skateboarding. I was the only one, and I was female. I stood out like a sore thumb and got my fair share of abuse for that, but I never gave in and always fought my corner against what I saw as a hoard of chart following mindless sheep (and I let that be known!). Then I chose Art over science at university much to the dismay of some people, following my heart and my passion and really allowing myself to embrace the way I thought and use it. So came a series of realisations and directions my family only partially understood: atheist, socialist, wanting to take off and travel, exploring, equality for all. I have clashed with many people, family, friends, strangers over my instance to question everything, if I’m honest I don’t do it to be controversial, I do it because it is just me. I have found people get very angry over these questions and generally find it appropriate to spout, for example, racist language in front of me because my skin colour is the same as theirs and yet when I get offended, I am labelled as argumentative. You have to chose your battles, I am aware, but I also believe standing back and not saying anything at many times is just as harmful as saying those things yourself.

Japan, travel, collage, scrapbook, scan, black and white, travelling, traveling, journey, found object, notes, abstract, fragments, revaluations, questioning normality, revolution, individuals

So to bring this back into my practice I now feel I can place my work in the same bracket as my personal belief and realise that the overriding theme is to question everything, all the time, to question the norms, question your norms and to always keep questioning them and always be open to change and information. Why is something normal? Whose interests does it serve that something be normal? What does normal even mean? Something that we don’t think about, don’t question, are expected to do, for government or corporate control and distractions. Many norms are based on rumour or myths that rely on naivety so the rich can take care of the rich whilst the proles live a life of blissful ignorance. Nothing will ever change unless we all start to question and to decided what is right for our own lives and not the 1%. I question why art funding is down and celebrity culture is rising. Distracting us from something that encourages open thinking and questioning. Most people prefer to turn a blind eye to the questions because they prefer to stay ignorant, it is the easy option. I could go on, into war and religion, smoking and drinking. But to make this relevant to my practice I have realised that I have chosen to express these concerns through the idea of exploration and how it allows us to question the city, its layout and its control over us, to encourage us to take a different perspective on a familiar and normal place and how it can suddenly become extraordinary and exciting. To bring into question the “non place, safe zones” of the high street and shopping malls that trap us into a white box of comsuerism which could be anywhere in the world. To step out of that into the dangerous, complex and unpredictable world of the real city. No barriers, no health and safety and plenty of history and unique stories available just around the corner, just breaking stride and turning down that sidestreet. Questioning the normal behaviour, normal view and normal experience of the city. I use my own methods of breaking free to demonstrate an ideology and expose a question to which I challenge the viewer to interpret and carry on their own line of investigations. I use the everyday to change normality and familiarity into strange and fascinating in an attempt to visualise the potential of our environment and ourselves. 

Japan, travel, collage, scrapbook, scan, black and white, travelling, traveling, journey, found object, notes, abstract, fragments, revaluations, questioning normality, revolution, individuals

Ill also add here my slides from my presentation and my script. It was a 10 minute presentation and I will be doing some work from it for the next edition of Buro so watch this space.

My Contexts presentation:

Japan, travel, collage, scrapbook, scan, black and white, travelling, traveling, journey, found object, notes, abstract, fragments, revaluations, questioning normality, revolution, individuals

My practice is based around the idea of exploration and escapism. I attempt to become a stranger in my own city and to approach the everyday with interest and intrigue. I look for adventure and discovery in all corners of the city attempting to turn the familiar into the strange. To change the banal modern city into a challenge, to see the traces and the history and to escape the comfort zone of the high street. My work is about having a connection to the city through more than just consumerism and in seeing the possibilities the world has to offer even in the most ordinary settings.

For this presentation I became interested in how the ideas of my practice relate to travel. For me travel was one of the reasons why I became interested in exploration within my own city, as a cure for my wanderlust in my everyday life. Travelling is when I feel most inspired and most aware, it is when I feel most removed from the safety net that familiarity can bring. It is about getting lost on purpose, placing myself in the middle of a strange land and challenging myself to survive. To embrace the details and complexity of a new environment.

For me travel is about escapism and discovery, I want to go somewhere I have never been before, experience and see completely new things. I want an adventure, a challenge and to embrace a new culture. Getting lost is part of the adventure and where the real experiences begin, the unexpected happens and opportunities arise. It is where the true interactions occur and we are able to go beyond the fa├žade and see the reality of a place. When I travel I enter into a hyper aware state in which even the most mundane things become strange and fascinating. Street signs, train tickets and food wrappers, these things offer us the most honest comparison to our own lives, where we feel the similarities and differences. This enables you to connect and become part of the flux, allowing the city to take you on a journey where you are never sure of what you might find or where you may end up.

“And it is utterly true that he who cannot find wonder, mystery, awe, the sense of a new world and an undiscovered realm in the places by the Gray’s inn road will never find those secrets elsewhere, not in the heart of Africa, not in the fabled hidden cities of Tibet.” (Arthur Machen 1924.)

I recently travelled to Tokyo which gave me the chance to give some perspective to my ideas and inspired this presentation. For me this was a journey into the unknown having never been to the Far East before, the prospect of travelling to such a different place thrilled me. I was looking forward to landing in the centre of one of the biggest cities in the world and getting totally lost, seeing and trying new things and discovering a new world. The prospect of all that detail, information and complexity did not scare me, in-fact it excited me. I wanted to go somewhere I knew little about and come away feeling like I had seen the soul of the place and in doing so would allow me to see the world through another perspective.

Getting lost in Tokyo was easy as you can probably imagine. The address system is a series of numbers instead of names and makes little sense to those unfamiliar with it. The metro is in fact made up of a subway and a train line which didn't become apparent until several days into the trip and explains a lot of confusion. Also very few people speak English or understood my attempt at Japanese! This makes finding your intended destination enjoyably difficult and resulted in some interesting interactions and unexpected discoveries.
The food was a lottery, the streets diverse and engrossing, the culture a fascinating mix of old and new, intense and serene and the people the most polite and helpful I have ever met. Tiny winding streets to wide open plazas and gardens, little electric cars to roaring bullet trains, compact wooden houses to massive skyscrapers. The cawing of the jungle crows perched on the pylons above, the smell of incense burning at a near by shrine, the buzz of electric town and the beat of the monks drum.
If Tokyo taught me anything it would be to be more polite, helpful and respectful. But also that modernity and tradition can work together to give us a diverse perspective on life.

However it interests me to see that many people have a very different philosophy on travel, one which in my opinion I see as an extension to the everyday comfort zone many people are trapped in. This fits in with the themes of my practice and the idea that the dumbing down of our culture and cites has extended into travel which has become overly consumerised and controlled. Sold to use in unnecessary packages at ridiculous expense they become the norm and give the illusion of choice, but in reality these implanted outcrops of English culture could be anywhere and nowhere at the same time. Much like a long term prisoner can become so accustomed to the simplicity of life in jail they fear the unpredictable and complex nature of the outside world. Conditioned into believing this is the only safe way to travel. Airport transfers, English pubs, set meal times and chaperoned excursions, these places create a denial and ignorance of the culture that surrounds them, creating fear and barriers.

“Disorientation, causes a break or discontinuity between the spectator-traveller and the space of the landscape he is contemplating or rushing through. This prevents him from perceiving it as a place, from being fully present in it. “(Marc Auge.1995)

Richard Long
I have been looking at the work of Richard Long in relation to the themes of this presentation. I am interesting in the way in which he connects to the environment through interaction and exploration. The idea of that exploration being an organic process in which you follow a natural direction, allow the place to affect you and guide you, take every detail in and to become part of that place. But also how that can open up your mind and allow you to become more aware of the world.

I found this quote to be particularly useful:
“Walking is a way of engaging and interacting with the world, providing the means of exposing oneself to new, changing perceptions and experiences and of acquiring an expanded awareness of our surroundings. Through such experiences, and through a deeper understanding of the places we occupy, we acquire a better understanding of our position in the world.” (Richard Long, 2002.)

The Boyle Family
Another set of work that I find relevant is that of the Boyle family. In particular how they present the environment to the viewer, they take the real fabric and make up of a place, the street, the pavement, the dirt. They take those things and elevate them from their overlooked location and allow us to see the details and offer them up for our interpretation. Their work tells us there are things waiting to be found in every corner and to open our minds to such discoveries.
Here a quote from their website:
“Their search is to find out if it is possible for an individual to free him/herself from conditioning and prejudice. To see if it is possible to look at the world, or a small part of it, without being reminded consciously or unconsciously of myths and legends.” (Boyle Family website.)

In conclusion I believe that instead of buying into simplicity we should switch of the auto pilot and embrace the complexity of the world. Travel is about the things that cannot be expressed, the textures, the smells, the atmosphere, the people and interactions, a richness that the tourist complexes can never replicate. I believe travel is a way in which we can become more tolerant, learning something new about life and other cultures, not to fear people and places that are different but to be fascinated by the complexity of humanity and this wonderfully diverse planet we live on.

I hope you stuck with it until the end, thank you!

Look out for my Zine based on my trip to Japan and this presentation and also my submission for BURO 2. 

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