David Batchelor - Found Monchromes

david batchelor  

Last month I went to see David Batchelor talk about his Monochrome Archive which is being show at the Whitechapel alongside their big Adventures of the Black Square abstraction show.

The Monochrome Archive is a series of photographs that Batchelor has taken over the past 20 years. They are images of white spaces (he talked about how white spaces are more suggestive of voids and have an ambiguity that similar grey, black or coloured rectangles don't) that he has found in ordinary, neglected urban environments (you don't find them in nature or in wealthier areas apparently ).

Collected together these found monochromes become a form of everyday abstraction, a way of re-locating a formalist mode of abstraction that is often defined by it's detachment from the everyday world right back in the heart of it.

Finding abstraction in the everyday in this way traces back to the ideas of modernism, our relationship to the city and the notion of the flaneur found in Bauderlaire.  Batchelor talked about the importance of the ephemeral nature of the monochromes and quoted from The Painter of Modern Life.

By ‘modernity’ I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and immutable…This transitory, fugitive element, whose metamorphoses are so rapid, must on no account be despised or dispensed with.

The Whitechapel have published a short video of David Batchelor talking about the Monochrome Archive  - link here

River Objects

A sunny day and low tide last week revealed lots of river objects along the Thames.

River Objects is my name for those things abandoned or washed up along the foreshore.

There is something about how things are worn by being in the river or have their original surface obscured by mud, sludge and slime that makes them more abstract, the usual clues and markers are missing and only their form is left.  Sometimes you can recognise what they once were, often you have no idea of their age, purpose or origin.

Silvertown Explosion

I have been doing some research on the stretch of the Thames near my studio - from the North Greenwich Peninsula to where the Woolwich Ferry crosses the river.  What I particularly like that it that it still feels like it is a working river, there is the large Tate and Lyle sugar factory opposite and I pass the still active sand dredging plant at Angerstein Wharf on my way in. The area really tells the story of the cycle of industrialisation and post-industrialisation and the sense of inevitable change associated with that. It was largely undeveloped until the the 19th century when it started to become a home for what was then cutting edge technology, early transatlantic communication cables were developed here and the East Greenwich gas works was the largest in Europe.  But technologies move on, city gas was replaced with North Sea Gas and containerisation means that the docks have moved down river, and the area is now waiting for the next commercial cycle of property development to change it once again.

One of the things I didn't know about was the Silvertown Explosion of 1917.  This was an explosion on the north of the river in a factory purifying TNT during WW1.  This was known to be a dangerous process but faced with an Army shell shortage the War Office decided to go ahead despite resistance from the company as the factory was in a heavily populated area  .  In the early evening of 19th January a fire broke out and 50 tons of TNT ignited. 73 people were killed and 400 injured and the damage was widespread.

Among the eye witness accounts is one from J.J.Betts, one of the fireman who attended the scene. It tells of the effect of the explosion on Millenium Mills a nearby flour mill (which in another demonstration of how the area embodies the often troubled/troubling relationship between the industrial and post-industrial is now a derelict space iconic among urban explorers and film directors).  Mr Betts isn't the only witness to talk of the 'terrible beauty' of the explosion and subsequent fire but the imagery he uses of the storm of sleet becoming incandescent is so beautiful and so at odds with the events that it stays with me.

..from the flour mills, where several hundred girls had been at work, came flying showers of millions of tiny particles of light as though a sweeping storm of sleet had become incandescent. No doubt these tiny specks were the glowing ashes of a myriad grains of wheat carried up into the sky by waves of flame. It was like a golden rainstorm.”



Image cropping

A couple of images have made me think about how artists use cropping as part of their process. I was at Tate St Ives and saw Franz Kline's Meryon as part of their International Exchanges exhibition.  Along with the boldness of the mark making and the strength of the image I was struck by the way it overflows the canvas and the sense that the form continues above and below, that this is somehow a cropped version of something bigger.

Franz Kline ‘Meryon’, 1960–1
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2014

Staying with the Tate I was thinking of their Prunella Clough archive which I've blogged about before and which contains some of her working materials.  One of the ways she transformed the everyday into abstract images is by cropping larger images to focus in on details and to change the context.

Photograph taken by Prunella Clough, Date unknown, Courtesy of Tate Archive

Instagram does a similar thing as the square post format is always smaller than the original photo. Sometimes you allow for this and mentally compose your image within the larger camera frame but  I also enjoy the process of selecting and framing parts of the image and the way in which this sometimes reveals something new.



I seem to be collecting images of lichen so it's probably just a matter of time before they find their way into a series of work. There is something about the acid brightness of the colours and the way the form grows. There is a  ubiquity and specificity to lichen - it grows everywhere but each form is quite specific to it's environment.  There is also something about the way it is an indicator for air pollution - it's a signal for its surroundings if you just know how to read it.

20140207_113043 20140207_113235

Newlyn Lichen