Part 3

Unit 7 - Reflection

by Ridley


Today I started my first day of studio work on my new project, 'Art, and controlling the masses'. My initial reason for choosing this subject for the project came from watching the documentary 'Hate Thy Neighbor" on vice. In the episode, the Presenter, Jamali Maddix, addressed the confederate flags and the extreme groups of people that wanted the flag taken down and banned and those who wanted to preserve and fly it. I became increasingly interested in the idea of a flag holding such power and influence that people were stating that they would happily kill people over it. This led me to the idea of investigating How cloth can accrue power. I Started today by buying 1 meter of cloth from the art shop in the school, I chose to buy just plain average cotton to see if even the plainest and basic cloth can be made into such a symbol (a symbol with power). I started by painting the confederate flag on the cloth. As the cloth was drying and I was carrying it around the building I tried to shield the image on the cotton for obvious reasons. However, on the occasion that people would spot the paint, some noticed the flag and asked me accusing questions about it, while others seemed perplexed by the bold colours trying to work out what I had actually painted. This led me to try and experiment with deforming and manipulating the cloth and observing how much power or authority it retained and how to slightly changed the impact of the flag. This is something I will continue tomorrow.



I spent today mainly using the photocopier. I wanted to use the photocopier as it would create high-quality replications of a flag that I spent ages yesterday making. What I did was took the Confederate flag down to the photocopier and began to crumple and rearrange the flag. From these photocopies I was able to present images of the distorted flag, some barely recognisable and show them to fellow student and see what impact it would have. I spent the day thinking about the people in the documentary and how they might feel about what I am doing. It was a strange thought that someone thousands of miles away might get really angry and annoyed about something that I, all by myself, have paid for, cut and painted by hand and how I was treating it. How could this thing that I had created out of cloth and paint still impact some people so strongly? I decided that I was interested in finding the balance, using the photocopier, between a piece of cloth that held such strong influence and a harmless piece of crumpled up painted cloth that the very same people wouldn't care about. My investigation into how one can manipulate a flag and therefore its power and importance had started to become fruitful.


I decided that today I would continue my investigation into flags, however, I wanted to change the flag and use one that carried less tension and less extreme views (By the way the fact that a piece of cloth can even carry extreme views or beliefs still boggles my mind). I decided that I would not use the Confederate flag and use the much more acceptable Flag of America (The Stars and Stripes). I appreciated that this flag carried a less aggressive message and was instead one that millions of people were proud of. I began by painting the flag and once again headed to the photocopier. I kept in mind the fact that this flag had a more peaceful or acceptable reception and I decided that I wanted to continue to manipulate it, I wondered what effect manipulating a less controversial flag might have. If anything I believe that what resulted might have been more offensive to more people. The distinct lines of the stripes mean that when folded and crumpled, it was still recognisable as the US flag and it just looked like the defacing of an image that people actually really care about, whereas with the Confederate flag (a flag that I treated the exact same) which should have carried more tension was unrecognisable and therefore worthless. It was interesting to me immediately that the mere fact of crumpling something completely changed the value of the cloth. When flat, both flags carried these really strong emotions, but when crumpled, the arguably more extreme flag (confederate lag) lost all its power and the Star and Stripes simply became more offensive. This transfer of power was really interesting to me.



Today I came in having changed my area of investigation. Following a trip to the White Cube Gallery in which I saw a park police car outside a cafe while the officers ordered coffee, I decided that I wanted to investigate Authority and how we associate certain things with authority. I began by thinking about how people such as police officers, security guards and bouncers have such authority. I thought about what it is about them that gives them authority, and I began concluding that due to this social construct of law and order and the ideals of being in a civilised society we as the public give people who look like authority-figures authority without question. I thought that surely this is something that anyone can do. If I walked past someone who is dressed and looks like a police officer on the street I don't question it and I suddenly give them credible authority. I thought that this authority was something that we all give to people, and I thought that if one can imitate an authority figure one can gain authority. This idea of a false authority figure gaining genuine authority intrigued me. Although today I didn't exactly create anything on paper or make anything useful, I have found that it is a crucial turning point for my project and therefore a fundamentally important and well spent day.


Today with my new focus on authority figures I decided to look around the building and try and see what I observed. When I walked into the reception of the archway building I was interested in the security guard in the lobby. As my investigation had led me to the idea of trying to gain authority and it isn't legal to impersonate a police officer I decided that I wanted to try and impersonate a security guard. As I sat and watched the guard it was clear that his entire presence in the lobby changed the atmosphere and you suddenly felt that you were under surveillance and that you had to look like you belonged. I thought that while this was not something that I had noticed before, it was a really big exchange of power and authority between everyone that walked through the lobby. I decided that I was going to toy to with the idea of personally accruing power and authority, it became clear that impersonating a security guard was actually quite simple. All I really needed was time (to sit and stand in the lobby), black clothes and a walkie talkie, and anyone who doesn't know me will assume I'm a security guard and that I belong. This idea of gaining trust was interesting to me and I decided that I was going to do a performance piece, and I set about to eBay and Amazon and bought all the gear that I would over the following days to 'steal peoples trust'. 



Now that I had decided to impersonate a security guard and try and steal peoples trust and gain authority off people as a performance, I set about working on the logistics. The High-Vis security armband and a walkie-talkie that I had ordered off the internet had arrived and all I needed to do was try and film/evidence the performance of me impersonating a security guard and the interactions that would follow. I had seen whilst on my way up the stairs a security camera that was on the ceiling and was recording the room. I asked one of the maintenance team if it was recording and he said it was when I asked him for the footage or access to the CCTV he told me that I needed to email his boss. He gave me an email address and what followed was a long and tedious exchange of emails between myself and the 'freedom of information team' (which is the name of the next superhero film I know I want to see!). It was strange to me that actually impersonating a security guard and gaining so much authority was so easy and cheap and legal, and yet simply getting the footage of me doing it was really complex and drawn out proccess. After a long discussion with the freedom of information team, it was clear that attaining the footage was going to be really hard, nonetheless, I decided that I would plough on and do the performance.


Most of my day today was spent in further conversation and email exchanges with the maintenance teams and freedom of information team, which has forced me to believe that I won't be able to use the CCTV footage of the performance. I decided that for the afternoon I would go and examine the reception to the building. One thing that I definitely noticed was due to the signs and security guard and procedures there is a definite shift in one's attitude when you enter the building. Up until I entered the building I felt like a free man on the street able to do whatever I want, however when I cross through the doors and past the security guard and the cameras, I suddenly feel like a suspect and guard and the building itself demands authority and ultimately respect. Once again this idea of authority shifting from people to people and place to place has come up and is a theme that and concept that I am hoping to understand and experiment with more, as my performance piece seems to look less and less likely to take place. 



I have decided definitively today that I am not going to do the performance piece, however, the research and intellectual development that came from my planned performance piece has inspired me today. Today I decided that I would have a brainstorming session and have made several notes that I believe are leading up to a piece. My initial thoughts were developing the idea 'Armour of Authority' and trying to realise the idea that we can steal authority in an art piece. However, this led me to a belief that Authority is a fluid entity. Authority is something that people and even governments spend years to accrue but is also something that people give away consciously and unconsciously. As we walk around the streets we unconsciously act differently and our patterns change as our environments change. I have become really fascinated by this project with the idea of authority being passed back and fourth. From my time looking at the flags (and their ability to lose and gain meaning) and researching the security guard performance piece I believe that authority is an ever-changing entity that we often unwillingly give away. While it is important to take note of the fact that often we give it away and it can be accrued it is also equally important that we acknowledge that authority can be taken and often lost. I recall my time spent doing A-Level history and learning of Mao's China and his ability to accrue authority and lose it towards his later years. This idea of Authority shift is present throughout history as empires and governments rise and fall. My new and final art piece will be based on the idea of authority as a fluid entity.


Today I realised that I wanted to take the idea of Authority as a fluid entity literally. I have spent today thinking about various ways in which I can create an art piece that embodies this idea, preferably using an actual liquid. My idea is to create a large wheel that will contain slanted shelves on the inner side and as the wheel revolves, water on the shelves will pass back and forth. If there is a balance of speed between the flow rate of the liquid and the turning of the wheel then the water should stay ever in mid-air and thus represent this idea of authority as a constant structure in society but yet still being passed back and fourth. I am also very aware of the fact that today is the last day before the beginning of the Easter holiday, and as such, there is only one solid week left in which I will need to build and complete this art piece. Due to this, over the Easter holiday, I will focus on planning and be developing the idea of the piece so that it is both effective but can be produced in time for the deadline.  


Easter Break

Over the Easter break I have landed on one design that I believe encapsulates my philosophy that Authority is a fluid entity and, as long as nothing goes wrong, I will be able to build in the remaining 3 studio days. My design works on the idea of the public and individuals within a collective shifting the balance of power and authority. Four handmade pistons/cranks will hold up each corner of a square-shaped trench, that will hold oil. As the pistons are controlled and move the corners up and down the oil on the top will flow around the trench. The oil is representing the authority in my piece, unlike clear water that seems pure this black oil with a foul stench will travel around and as it goes around each corner and settles will mark the edge, much like the stains in time caused by rising and falling empires and governments. The four pistons/cranks will be facing in different directions causing them to be operated by four different people at once. The piece is intended to be interactive and if placed in a gallery or exhibition space will be free for the public to interact with. The exposed mechanism and wood and steel will represent, in mind at least, the raw and brutal way in which authority can be gained. Since the piece will be 'operated' by members of the public and random people the oil should move inconsistently around the tench and often stop and suddenly shift. I am very happy with the idea and design of my piece and believe that if I am able to make it and it is designed well enough to function it will be an effective art piece and hopefully bring to light the subtle and huge shifts in power we experience and contribute to every day. I have bought all the piece that I believe I will need and have them ready to start construction on Monday if all goes to plan I should finish in time.



Today I build the top trench and made the initial drilling holes for the pistons/crank in the workshop. 



Today I built the main body of all four of the pistons ready for the metal workshop and final assembly tomorrow 



Today I welded the metal parts of the pistons and assembled the whole piece, all that I have left to do is create the oil tomorrow.



Today I spent most of the day trying to create a good synthetic oil. It is illegal to purchase crude oil in the Uk. it is only given to schools and universities in small quantities to aid the teaching of fractional distillation. Despite all my efforts to try and find some, I was unable to buy any oil. Instead, I decided that I would need to create a synthetic version myself. My plan for the piece was to have a fairly viscous oil that had a strong smell, much like the cartoonish idea of oil. In my attempts to create it, I played around with mixing car engine oil (for the smell) and syrup (for the viscosity) and black paint and ink for the colouring. I made many different attempts to create the oil. The closest thing that I could create in the pot I was mixing with was a combination of ink and oil and syrup. However when I tested the oil in the small model that I had made it was clearly too thick and needed to be much more runny to work effectively in my piece. In the end, I created a mixture that was comprised of a small amount of car oil, water and lots of black ink. I felt that the 'oil' in the trench of the piece that I had made was sufficiently convincing as oil and ran smoothly around the top when the various pistons/cranks were created. 



My part three project has been successful in many ways. I intended to research and create a piece based on the idea of the presence of authority. Initially, I worked with cloth and textiles experimenting with the power and influence that certain flags hold, this idea came from watching a heated documentary about the Confederate flag. The analysis of this shift in authority from flag to flag and manipulation led me to plan a performance piece. I intended to dress as a false authority figure. In appearing like a security guard at the reception of the archway building I theorized that I would as a synthetic authority figure accrue real and practical authority. The piece helped me understand the exchange of authority and conformity that occurs every day. As I planned the performance I bought several items that I believed would give an individual a sense of authority and power over others when there was none. As I became more interested in documenting the performance piece of shadowing a security guard it became more evident that obtaining the access to the CCTV cameras would be harder and harder. Due to the difficulty gaining access to the footage I had to cancelled the plan to perform, however from the research and prep for the piece I was able to understand and develop the idea of authority as a fluid entity. I was inspired by visiting various exhibitions in which the relationship between myself and paintings changed, most notably viewing Picasso’s self-portrait that made me feel uncomfortable. The idea focuses on authority being a constant in society wherever we go, and our ability to consciously and unconsciously give and receiver authority. Having spent time researching and focusing on the idea of conformity and authority I decided I wanted to create a piece about this idea of unconsciously shifting power to the forefront of the audience’s mind. Had I been able to develop this theory and idea earlier on in the project I believe that my design for a final piece may have been more effective and I would be able to create a more striking piece, however, I am happy that my sculpture achieves many of the goals I set out for it. The oil in the top replicating the fluid motion of the exchange of authority is something that I am pleased with about the final outcome, however I believe that given more time to develop and build the piece I would make the tunnels that the oil runs down longer, exaggerating this flowing effect and making the piece larger and bolder. I am really happy that by using four different pistons/cranks pointing in four different directions, the pieces has to be operated by different people at one time, bringing together the idea of public interaction and the masses ability to affect authority. I am extremely pleased with the work I have done on this project and given better time management I would have created better but similar work.

Final Outcome - 'Authority is a fluid Entity"



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