Barbara Hepworth

This morning I jumped on a train and went to see the Barbara Hepworth exhibition at Tate Britain. Barbara Hepworth is an artist that I admire. She was a woman who didn’t let her gender interfere with what she was trying to do, who went her own way and who produced incredibly elegant, spare sculpture. Her preoccupations were with the human figure and landscape and the relationship between the two. I am especially interested in the way her work reflects a physical response to the environment, ‘feeling, touching, seeing through mind and hand and eye’. (extract from Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial Autobiography, Bath, 1971).

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I’ve seen Hepworth sculptures many times before but today I wanted to look at the relationship between her forms and the space around (and inside) them – the holes. I made some notes about the things that particularly caught my eye. They are rather disjointed, but I thought I‘d record them here as I wrote them down in my notebook.

Small Sculpture

Squint/ peer – looking through holes and tunnels to the other side. Cups and depressions are almost holes.

Placement

Positioning and display – the base is part of the sculpture

Discs in Echelon

Placed close together on a base. The space between the two parts is very close – the gap is almost a hole. Although not fully enclosed the space appears to be so as the two elements seem to be one.

Discs in Echelon 1935, cast 1959 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03132

Discs in Echelon 1935, cast 1959 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by the executors of the artist’s estate 1980 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03132

Forms in Echelon 1938

Look through the hole/tunnel. Offset behind, to show left edge only – smooth, shiny, rich.

Forms in Echelon 1938 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by the artist 1964 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00698

Forms in Echelon 1938 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by the artist 1964 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00698

Pendour

Many holes – large and small on top and all sides. Interior space painted white and surprisingly pale blue. Shadows.

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 http://barbarahepworth.org.uk/sculptures/1947/pendour/

Pelagos

Strings disrupt the interior space. Shadows disrupt the interior space.

Pelagos 1946 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by the artist 1964 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00699

Pelagos 1946 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by the artist 1964 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00699

Oval sculpture

The amount of wood taken away makes the heaviness fragile and skeletal – an irregular honeycomb.

Curved Form (Trevalgan)

A hole within an almost hole. Cupped – slung –rigid tops.

Curved Form (Trevalgan) 1956 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Purchased 1960 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00353

Curved Form (Trevalgan) 1956 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Purchased 1960 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00353

Jeanette Winterson sums up in this article.

‘Hepworth wanted to see right through solid form, but what happened was a surprise. By surrounding space with form, the invisible becomes visible. Here was a view previously enjoyed only by God: nothingness.

Sometimes I think that Hepworth’s pierced forms are inversions. That the object, however beautiful, is a means of seeing the empty space within and around it.’

I really enjoyed this exhibition and I will have to go back. It is very hard not to touch these remarkable sculptures – to put out your hand and stroke the smooth shiny surfaces of wood and stone or to put your fingers into and through the visible nothingness of the holes.

Sound Holes

Music and sound are for me inextricably linked with playing a musical instrument. In my case it is the flute. Playing an instrument is a very physical experience that incorporates the senses of sight, sound and touch.

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A flute is not grasped tightly but is balanced lightly between the joint of the left index finger, the tip of the right thumb and under the bottom lip. The other fingers need to be able to dance freely over the keys and your posture needs to be upright with the arms away from the body so that it is possible to expand the chest and breathe deeply. You inhale and breathe out slowly filling the flute with air. The air vibrates and the sound waves can be felt pulsing up and down the flute. My favourite notes are the ones where all the keys are pressed down: low note D and E flat and E flat two octaves above, as it is here that the fingers can really feel the sound.

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A flute is basically a tube that is open at both ends with holes. The player blows across the mouth hole and the stream of air strikes the far edge bouncing it in and out of the tube causing turbulence and setting up vibrations in the column of air inside the tube. The tube acts as a resonator that amplifies the vibration and by opening or closing the holes the vibrating portion of the tube will lengthen or shorten to change the pitch of the sound heard.

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The holes (and the keys covering them) therefore are the focus of all the sound wave activity. As the vibrations pulsate up and down the tube an open hole stops them in their tracks and releases them – essentially the tube becomes shorter. The hole is an opening that frees the sound waves enabling them to be heard.

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As I sew hundreds of holes into this cloth I can’t help wondering what kind of noise they would make if  they were able to pulsate and resound with sound.

Holey Words

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I’ve been thinking about different types of holes  – how they are made? what they do? what do they say? My first port of call is always a thesaurus. Here are the words that caught my eye.

Opening: Gap, Lacuna, Aperture, Split, Crack, Leak, Hollow, Cavity, Pocket

Perforation: Piercing, Puncture, Borehole, Pinhole, Eyelet

Orifice: Pore, Nostril, Embouchure,

Window: Porthole, Peephole, Squint

Doorway: Threshold, Scuttle

Open Space: Clearing, View

Tunnel: Oesophagus, Vent hole

Perforator: Borer, Gimlet, Wimble, Drill, Stiletto

Expose: Gape

Perforate: Riddle

Porus: Permeate

Open: Unfold, Bare, Unrip, Force Open, Rip, Tear, Separate, Unclench

Pierce: Lance, Poke, Pepper, Punch, Drain, Penetrate

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The photos are of a Work in Progress (just started). These holes are defined and precise but are they eyelets to squint through or a filter to let sound through?

Holes

Well! Here is a bit of a conundrum for you.

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What is a hole? Is it a thing or a nothing? I’ve been thinking about this for a while and these are my conclusions  ….

A hole is just a space – an immaterial emptiness that is surrounded by a physical material that describes its shape and allows us to see nothing. The material around the hole makes visible the invisible. We name holes and can describe their physical qualities. They can be a hollow or an opening, a cave, a pocket, a perforation, a slit, a crack. They can be large or small, single or numerous, high up or low down. Therefore if we can identify them maybe a hole is something.

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Pierced into a piece of cloth a hole lets light and air through and reveals what is behind but can the space within be called a mark? The space/negative space/emptiness is, I believe, as important as the surrounding material that describes its shape; neither takes precedence over the other and each is a mark in its own right.

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To me the nothingness should describe silence. Kandinsky described the colour white as ‘having the harmony of silence’, so, are holes pierced into white cloth silence on silence? It seems to me that the holes are disturbances in the silence, they denote sounds – they are soundmarks. But if the hole and the surrounding cloth are equally important then both the space within the hole and the material itself become the mark. The soundmarks can switch from one to the other but it is the surrounding material that forms and shapes their quality.

Any other thoughts are most welcome ….

Cover girl

Look what I received in the post today! Art Quilting Studio came all the way from the States and has a wonderfully sensitive article about my collages written by Rice Freeman-Zachery. It’s the first time I have had my work featured in a magazine and I’m very happy with the result. There are loads of photos and I’m even on the cover! I’ve had a look around and you can buy Art Quilting Studio in the UK here if you’d like to read it for yourself. It’s a really nicely produced magazine with loads of other interesting things as well.

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Notations – seeing sound

Is it possible for music and sound to be a visual art as well as a hearing one? This is a question that I have been mulling over for some time and one that lies at the heart of the work I am doing at the moment. I am interested in a synthesis of sound, landscape and music notation and whether drawing sound could be a way of creating an aural landscape where sound is visualised and landscape is heard. I am exploring this by looking at various forms of notation.

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Notation is a recognised system of symbols (essentially marks on paper) that visually represent a music or sound idea. Standard notations are well-known, clearly defined structures that are able to communicate sound information in a functional and precise manner. I consider the characteristics of three notations that are able to articulate sound: text, Western musical notation and graphic scores.

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Text and words are the visual form of speech. Indeed, as you are reading this you are probably also hearing my words in your head. The traditional Western musical notation of a score is read by a musician who has the skill to interpret and hear a composer’s thoughts.

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Both these types of notation can be understood aurally when the written language has been learnt. Furthermore a musician can also realise music notation by playing them on a musical instrument as the notational elements of a musical score are there to fulfil a purpose which is to ‘sound out’ a composers’ ideas. A musical score is normally thought of as silent and would generally be deemed redundant if it weren’t to be played by musicians, however, we don’t question the functionality of a script if we don’t read it out aloud.  Thus, we are able to learn the symbols of script or score, understand their meanings and consequently ‘hear’ those meanings in our heads – our eyes are able to see the sounds inferred.

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However, both these notations create boundaries and an artist can only take their ideas as far as the conventional limits of the system will allow. Formal notations can constrain an artist who wants to be able to communicate a suggestive or poetic sound idea that falls outside of the standard structure of known marks.

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From the 1950s composers such as John Cage, Cornelius Cardew and Earle Brown moved away from the restrictions of conventional musical notation to find new solutions. The reasons for this were various: to create a greater artistic freedom with a new range of sounds and sound relationships, to enable creative improvisation and interpretive freedom in performance. Graphic scores were the medium through which composers were able to articulate their ground breaking new ideas.

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Graphic scores are a way of communicating musical or sound ideas through drawing. Although some composers only used drawing alongside modifications of conventional musical notation others invented a completely different approach.  Experimental marks and pictures represented sounds and became the alternative means of expressing creativity and the boundaries between notation as music and notation as art became blurred. The marks made on a graphic score are not the learnt mark of a standard script or musical score, they are imagined marks that come from the creator’s mind – there are no set rules for creation or interpretation attached to them. The creator will have had an idea but the final interpretation is only constrained by the reader’s imagination.

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I believe that a graphic score is able to blur the boundaries between cognition and performance or put another way, notation as art and notation as music. By using abstract drawn, painted or constructed marks that are not a traditional recognised sound notation the work becomes a hybrid, a mixture of sound notation and visual and tactile marks that leave enormous scope for the imaginative interpretation of the reader. Art exists to enhance human understanding and the method of inferring aural, visual and even tactile experience through the medium of a graphic score gives the creator the freedom to express more than standardised notations are able to offer.

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I want to draw attention to the way in which we experience our surroundings using the visual, aural and tactile senses. In these photographs I am creating visual and tactile marks that represent sound but leave us with the paradox of a silent score – a score that is not meant to be performed but one that is to be looked at, touched and consequently heard.