Zoe Replies (to my reply to her reply to….)

‘Sent: Monday, 30 November 2012, 15:39′

Zoe Fothergill replied to my previous email about our structure/content collaboration with some nested comments. I’ve put my highlights below and tried to avoid too much repetition of my previous mail. One of us said in this email ‘Here’s my reply to your reply to my reply to your reply from before’ which sums up the twistiness of the process!


In my last email I asked Zoe….


Iain: This raises the interesting possibility just now in my head, of a see-through artwork. Can you think of any?

Zoe: weirdly just this week i was doing a bit of research to intro a speaker and found these attached.

one example of the images Zoe found

one example of the images Zoe found


revealing the behind the scenes of the paintings – punching through the illusion of 2d surface in a surprisingly compelling way. this had made me think about when i’m referring to structure as content whether i’m really talking about breaking the 4th wall. bringing the audience into the how of production and i found mise-en-abyme as a phrase that might be useful to describe this. wiki in their usual way have a whole load about it. originally about painting within painting ad infinitum or mirror opposite mirror with endlessly recurring image but more recently as ‘The modern meaning of the term originates with the author André Gide who used it to describe self-reflexive embeddings in various art-forms and to describe what he himself sought in his work.[1] As examples, Gide cites both paintings such as Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez and literary forms such as Shakespeare‘s use of the “play within a play” device in Hamlet, where a theatrical company presents a performance for the characters that illuminates a thematic aspect of the play itself. This use of the term mise en abyme was picked up by scholars and popularized in the 1977 book Le récit spéculaire. Essai sur la mise en abyme by Lucien Dällenbach.[2]‘ 

it then goes on to talk about the deconstruction of process which i guess is a major preoccupation of postmodern thought. anyway here’s a link to that page if you fancy reading more. somehow i think this is getting into what i mean by the content being the structure but still not quite articulated.


Then Zoe continued the discussion about the difference in meaning between ‘form’ and ‘structure’….

Iain: I think what I like about ‘form’ as a word to use in this discussion is that it’s often set up as, not exactly the opposite of, but certainly the counterpart to ‘content’, so it comes out of my mouth/fingers naturally. It has a valency, history of use. Maybe that makes it too cosy to use now unthinkingly. A bit hackneyed.

Zoe: i think you hit on why i struggle with form because it has the weight of that which has gone before. it has a sort of expectation in it as a result of that which for me structure is free from. form in visual arts i think of being the visual qualities that might categorise what you are encountering. and it is what people often go to first in crits or initial interpretations – its almost the descriptive stuff defining what you see – but it is the easy stuff it’s the whatness and it shies away from the trickier howness and whyness. is structure both how and why or is semantics or meaning purely the why? mmm not sure now.


The exchange about artist Andrew Grassie’s painting practice, begun in this post, continued….

Iain: You say that the structure (meaning the process here?) becomes the principal subject. I’d like to hear what you think might be secondary subjects in this Grassie work too.

Zoe: there is also poking at the power structures in the art world. he put out an open call for artists to show in a trendy well sought after space which is profile raising for aspiring artists. usually artists don’t get to make that selection but is in the hands of the curators. so playing with curatorial and artists expectations about how they interact. also he put out the invite with all their names on it and so selling his work off the reputations of fellow artists whose profile might have been considerably higher than his. as you say flattening or at least considerably altering the power structures at play in quite an audacious way. questions about aura too – do you need to be in the physical presence of an artwork to experience its power or is this possible in reproduction and if so how is that altered by the fact that he makes these high art egg tempera paintings rather than presenting the photographs they are taken from. lots going on for me…

Iain: I’m interested in that initial period in which we’re wooed by the work, and the game, the puzzle, keeps you looking longer – it makes it something happening in time maybe?

Zoe: i really like your assessment here that you get drawn in by the game of structural/ process playfulness but then there has to be some meatiness on the inside to grapple with and i think he does that too. but there is a real danger in getting so caught up in the smarts of mental manoeuvring that the core around which all is framed becomes vacant and disappointing.


And then here Zoe responded to my wondering if we could come up with a visual/text translation game to play with this suggestion, which has now gathered steam and may turn out to be a central and fun part of the performance….

Zoe: how about we each send each other a word or maybe we just agree to start with structure or some such and then reply with an image on and on til we have a album of evolving images. or alternate between image and word/phrase/quote. i think i’d really enjoy that. what d’you reckon?


Zoe then picked up on this comment from me….

Iain: To say the meaning is housed in the structure implies a possible separation of the two. Maybe there are just two separate processes going on in an artwork and the trick is to manage the symbiotic relationship between them with you as the magi?

Zoe: i reckon there are at least two – well i always find way more than i can begin to master. and for me they are never separate always intimately entwined. you change one thing and it sets off a whole load of other stuff you hadn’t thought was there. but that is the fun of the fair is it not mr m!


A nice way to leave things for now. At the fun of the fair 🙂