TRACK

Oxford and Nottingham

Month: October 2010

Starting point: Giambattista Vico and Marshall McLuhan

I first came across Giambattista Vico in reference to ecological thinking and the Scottish poet George Bruce.

I was unaware that McLuhan was directly influenced in following by Vico and Francis Bacon:

The Laws of Media

Through journals he kept during the early part of his academic life he intimated his intention to codify a set of universal or general laws or principles at some point in his career. This was done perhaps as an indicator of the scope of his ambitions.

Until the relatively recent posthumous publication of Laws of Media in 1988 his methodology remained controversial and poorly understood by many as did his theories on media.

The fullfilment of his ambitions is best exemplified by Laws of Media which first appeared as an article by McLuhan in 1975 and formed the basis of his last decade of collaborations with many including Barrington Nevitt (with whom he has co-authored Take Today: The Executive as Drop Out. Laws of Media as a book was completed by McLuhan’s son Eric, and published a decade after his death.

After a decade-long search, Eric and Marshall McLuhan discovered that there are four such messages or characteristics that they posed as probes: What does the artefact extend, enhance, accelerate or enable? When extended beyond the limit of its potential, into what does it reverse? What does it obsolesce or cause to lose its dominance? What does it retrieve from the past that had been formerly obsolesced? Given that these can apply to all conceptions and creations of humankind, all human artefacts be they tangible or intangible are media. Using the four media laws allows us to find connections and ratios or analogues among things and ideas that are not obviously connected, thereby assisting us in becoming aware of the hidden ground.

McLuhan called this four fold set of laws and figure ground relationship a “tetrad”. Some posit a fifth law based on McLuhans statement that much of his work is mennipean satire. Today’s audience would recognize this technique at it’s present coordinates at adbusters.com on the internet and represented in phenomena such as culture jamming. Below right is a graphical representation of a tetrad.

The roots of McLuhan’s interpretation, and the laws of media, are deeply rooted in the past. They are traceable to the ancient Western curriculum, the trivium (logic, rhetoric, and grammar) a tradition which McLuhan re-discovered while preparing his doctoral thesis at Cambridge. In the Laws of Media, he linked these own discoveries to the work of Francis Bacon and Giambattista Vico.

http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Marshall_McLuhan Last accessed: 08/11/10

Initial concept – Anglocana?

The project is centred on a site specific location which involves a local art centre (Cornerstone Didcot Oxfordshire), an abandoned railway track (now a public thoroughfare) and internet resources specifically GPS locative applications on handheld devices.

I aim to draw together my multidisciplinary activities in one specific outcome. This will be an exhibition tied in with locative media that will involve public engagement in producing new artworks through GPS drawing.

Users will use handheld internet connected devices to both read and create interaction during the event.

Delineation of ‘Theory’: An artist’s statement

I was recently asked to pen an Artist’s Statement and the following draws on that article.

Shaun Belcher November 2009

I am a somewhat unusual case to be writing about my ‘fine art’ practice. I began life ‘post-Hornsey College of Art’ in 1981 having successfully gained a place on the Royal College M.A. in Painting but sadly was not so successful in terms of funding. I continued as a painter and printmaker until a move to Edinburgh in 1993. There I became a published poet. A return to Oxford in 1996 then saw a period of fine art mixed with song-writing.

In conventional terms this kind of genre-hopping is frowned upon as not being quite serious enough. Thankfully I have enough USA based models to not worry too much about that e.g. Musician and Architect and Fine Artist Terry Allen to name but one influence. However whatever my ‘practice’ entailed throughout this period one thing remained constant. My commitment and seriousness about what I was depicting in whatever medium.

Throughout my ‘art-working’ life some things have remained stubbornly, one might even say obsessively’, constant. Be it in digital images as recently or in drawing or poetry and song I have remained constant in delineating a clearly ‘map-able’ terrain. This terrain extends about 5 to 20 miles in radius of my hometown of Didcot in Oxfordshire, England. Always the poor relation of the illustrious centre of learning that resides but a stones throw away.

There runs a hard core of intention throughout which draws on politics, ecological thinking and that obsessive returning to notions of ‘place’ and ‘landscape’. I regard my work as being a mapping of constant themes which recur sometimes years later. The River Thames is one theme the Berkshire Downs another. Local folk tales and oral literature mined from local libraries another. A recent song ‘Hanging Puppet’ drew on one such ‘tale. In fact one could describe it as artistic ‘Anglocana’ to differentiate it from Americana. I have written well over 2000 songs over the years..Mostly these are recorded in lo-fi versions and only really coming to life when in the hands of other more talented musicians (see the Moon Over the Downs CD 2003). Poetry has appeared in various magazines and in the Scottish anthology The Ice Horses (1996). I currently have at least 4 unpublished complete books of poetry on the shelf. One could describe my work as multi-disciplinary with a strong streak of green politics colouring the waters beneath.

I have drawn on some clear influences in writing and art. Seamus Heaney’s concept of a personal ‘Hedge School’ going back to John Clare is one thread. My forebear’s personal involvement in Agricultural Unions is another (see Skeleton at the Plough poems). I also am influenced by a ‘working class’ sense of writing picked up from Carver and Gallagher and other dirty realists. In song almost any Americana act would suffice. I am not American but I have strong American influences going back to Thoreau and Walden lake. To try and build an alternative ‘English’ approach I have increasingly been drawn back to the English Civil War when the notions of science and arts were more fluid and interchangeable. I have recently purchased a reproduction of Robert Plot’s Oxford a marvellous Natural History of Oxfordshire from 1677. In it one finds specimens such as ‘Stones that look like Horses’…wonderful….

It is this kind of merging of scientific natural history and folk-lore terminology that I now most interested in. Both in poetry (see Downland Ballads) and artworks (see TRACK..2009)

So how does theory inform my practice? Well I see no distinction between the various arts. I am widely read in poetry and song and that informs my practice whatever I do. At times I have also used cartooning as an ‘art criticism’ vehicle as well as penning many art review pieces. I regard both theory and practice as being essential parts of art education and indeed my own life-long learning. One would not exist without the other.

One needs time to absorb and think not just create. I return again and again to my greatest teachers. People I did not know but who showed by example. Sorley Maclean and Norman McCaig both fine Scottish poets and the female war artist Ray Howard Jones whom I had pleasure of meeting…a friend of the artist David Jones. Wonderful inspirational people…

Original Track project 2008-9

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LATEST PROJECT: track

Using images of ‘migrant’ plant life found along a disused railway line in Oxfordshire over which I am superimposing sets of three words which reflect on not only the migrant plant histories but also reflect wider current concerns with displacement, nationality and sense of place.

The Didcot to Newbury and Southampton railway line was axed by Beeching but carried freight until the late 1960’s and I remember it being in use as a small child. Indeed the track represents a key component of my own personal ‘psychogeography’ thus enabling a serious meditation on aspects of rural life, diaspora and the changing role and use of the english landscape.

I hope to publish a very limited edition photograph and poetry volume containing not only the 12 ‘track’ images but also 12 ‘Downland ballads‘ which I am writing concurrently for the project. The poems are a part of the process reflecting on historical links and indeed ‘tracking’ aspects of my life and the history of this small and unremarkable part of the South Oxfordshire landscape that does not conform to ‘idealist’ notions of art and landscape.

Should an application to the recently opened Cornerhouse Arts Centre in Didcot be successful I hope to display the entire series as a digital series and also present the documentation and original paintings which will grow out of this project. This is hopefully to be sometime in 2011/12.

track

RPT MA Trent 2010-11

I am commencing a M.A. in multimedia through my own University. It open-ended and research based and will bring traditional practice and internet together.

The project is centred on a site specific location which involves a local art centre (Cornerstone Didcot Oxfordshire), an abandoned railway track (now a public thoroughfare) and internet resources specifically GPS locative applications on handheld devices.

I aim to draw together my multidisciplinary activities in one specific outcome. This will be an exhibition tied in with locative media that may involve public engagement in producing new artworks through GPS drawing.

Users will use handheld internet connected devices to both read and create interaction during the event.

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