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  • Terry Channell

Yup’ik dance masks: Heidegger’s theory of art in practice?

The evolution of my artistic practice has introduced me to new ideas and ways of working that have changed me as a person, and the way I view the world. The act of making (painting, drawing, printmaking), for example, requires the development of a heightened awareness of form, colour, texture.This visual sensitivity does not stop when you leave the studio, it becomes part of the way you see - your house, your garden, people and so forth. It's like seeing the world in technicolour rather than black and white.: as I sit here I am aware of the variety of colour in my kitchen at it can feel too much to take in. Conversely, I was surprised by the range of greens there are in trees - try looking at them in the park, in a wood or even from a train, at the height of summer - there appear no two greens the same. There is a complete terminology with which to describe colour (try googling 'Shades of Green' for simple definitions; at the other extreme, get hold of Johannes Itten's 'The Art of Colour' for a fascinating demonstration of colour theory and practice).

I guess one of the biggest change in my thinking, and probably the hardest to adapt to, is the transition from a business perspective to an artistic one. Put simply, business comes down to one very measurable end result - numbers, and particularly money. The measure everything, target driven culture exists even when business is being 'creative' (advertising, films etc.). Operating in this environment means the ability to set targets (especially stretch targets) and either set strategies and plans to meet them yourself or enable others to. There is skill and a lot of effort required to do this, but you can always measure the outcome (good or bad) - did you meet your revenue/sales/profit target? And, with enough experience, you can investigate why you achieved that outcome. Go and make some critical art related to manhole covers/cloth/masks. The term critical is used to indicate work that goes beyond straight representation (eg a photograph). What exactly is the outcome you need to achieve, how do you know you've achieved it? My experience over the last 5 years is that, although put crudely, these are quite profound questions, particularly if you are living the life of an artist and one that makes because he/she has to (as opposed to a creative that works to a brief). As evidence of this, the shared experience of setting up an artist's collective was hard work, but made easier when we realised that we couldn't predict outcomes, that the collective grew and existed organically. We now recognise that we launch new ideas and collaborations deliberately not defining an outcome, but focus on the bringing together of knowledge and experience and trusting that things will come good (increasingly difficult as the target driven business culture has invaded so deeply into the arts and education).

I will publish more on the experience of setting up the collective, but want to cover one more feature of this new way of being that has made the transition worthwhile, in addition to the making. That is the academic research that I have included in my practice. As part of my creative process I make multiple paintings, drawings and prints as a way of 'digging into' the subject, and going beneath its aesthetics; equally important is the research and development of a degree of academic rigour, and the exposure to new ways of looking at the world through an increasing awareness of philosophy. An example of this is the Yup'ik series of work, which was displayed at my recent London joint exhibition, my degree show and will be shown at the Mall Galleries. Driven by a fascination of these masks (I came across them at the Frieze Masters (see, and thanks to Donald Ellis for his support). I researched Inuit culture and the philosophy of art. The combination of creative and intellectual energy and experience generated by the exercise was palpable, and has set the trend for my future work. In addition to making I produced an extended essay which was very hard work but gave me (and still gives me, great pleasure. I have a sense that in my research I have made new connections between non-western art forms and the philosophy of art, original thinking and writing (see ‘Yup’ik Dance Masks: Heidegger’s Theory of Art in Practice?’).

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