Frame 61

Caroline Jane Harris

Frame 61
Caroline Jane Harris

About yourself, where did it all begin?: It's a slightly overused response but in my case the most honest; it's always been there within me. There was no specific decision in time but an introspective pursuit which manifested itself in making and drawing from a young age. Practically, I went straight from school to a Foundation course, which opened up new ways of thinking, followed by a Bachelor in Fine Art Printmaking at the University of Brighton. Funnily enough I unwittingly applied for the Painting path with little knowledge of what “printmaking” really entailed, despite not having any paintings in my portfolio. At my interview they showed me around the printmaking department and suddenly it all made sense. My undergraduate degree really shaped my understanding of my own work, the strategies I employ to make art and the specificities of the areas I am interested in.

Medium: The work started again on my BA in printmaking, where I was cutting woodblocks but was finding myself frustrated with both the lack of control over achievable detail, as well as the particular aesthetic of the woodcut and my own gesture. I am not interested in my own style of drawing but it is to me of paramount importance to make the work by hand, leaving behind an index, which distinguishes and conveys my relationship to time, attention and imperfection.

Introducing the digital print not only gave me a plan to trace with my scalpel, but acts as a counter-point to the record of my marks, as the prints themselves have a zero-history through their layers and sequences invisibly stored in virtual space, blocking the viewer from engaging in a game of visual excavation. This so, a tension is highlighted between the visible and invisible time spent in the digital and manual stages, as well as the options to “go back in history” versus the irreversible arrow of the micro-decisions made concerning the cut. In juxtaposing the digital print and the hand-cut mark, the detail acts as an invitation for the viewer to sustain interest and explore the micro-variables in an intense focused engagement, before shifting to the over-all figurative digital print. Furthermore my interests around layering of time and physical contact are present in the relationship between my medium and process, as throughout history Inkjet printing is the first time that a coloured print has appeared on paper without any direct intervention from the hand, soaking or compressing of surfaces. Therefore the use of digital-print on Japanese Kozo paper in conjunction with the hand-cut mark generates a connection to the traditions of woodblock printing and the development of technological printing processes.

Experiences/Life: In terms of my 'career' as an artist, it's been a combination of making opportunities for myself and nurturing relationships. Not long after graduating from my BA I was selected as an artist in residence for six months at a gallery on Portobello road, which gave me a workspace and enough time to effectively experiment and develop a body of work without the pressures of paying studio rent, as well as providing direction by way of a solo exhibition. Following on, I had a portfolio to show in the first year of 'The Other Art Fair', where I was picked up by two galleries, one of which I carried on exhibiting with in Mayfair, Fitzrovia and internationally at art fairs for the following years. Contacts that I made on my first residency have recently resulted in a feature in 'Red' magazine alongside a show at Anthropologie, as well as a separate solo show in 2017, which are currently getting underway. Most importantly however is the new direction my work has taken since completing a Masters at City&Guilds of London Art School, five years after my BA, which has given me enough stability, research skills and work-based enquiries to fuel my practice for an unforeseeable amount of time.

Time: It's difficult to quantify as often the images I take and eventually use stew in a digital and mental archive for some time before being selected. That said, occasionally an image will align perfectly with the ideas I want to express internally in the work at the moment of capture and so I will go straight to the Photoshop/editing/re-working process, which takes a few days to a week. The cutting stage is often one of the last processes to be carried out and takes the longest, depending on the size and amount of the holes, i.e. the surface area of the spaces to cut. This generally takes weeks to months accordingly. In my latest work which dictates that I cut pixels, I have devised a method whereby I make all the vertical incisions, followed by the horizontal ones; in this way I liken the marks to tallies of my time spent, in sympathy with the Trappist monks who dig their graves a spadesful a day.

Spend your day, process: I divide my time between working on final pieces, experimenting with new materials and processes, and researching for ideas and opportunities. In the studio I work quite intensively with the aim to spend ten hours a day there, allowing at least eight hours for cutting or working with my hands. Although the work is very absorbing and meditative I find that what I listen to can affect the quality of my work and the ability to get into a state of mindfulness. Listening to music can sometimes have a damaging effect as I tend to switch off and it becomes background noise whilst the mind wonders, except in the case of classical music which I find helps me focus. When I listen to something interesting either on the radio or on a podcast however, I find that in being engaged and concentrated on the audio, this in-turn comes through in the work by way of accuracy and speed, whilst allowing me to set a pace with my breathing. I love listening to other artists being interviewed or talk about their respective practices, but it can be disruptive when I have to constantly swap from scalpel to Biro to make notes. Most of the time I will have LBC playing, as I like to keep up with the news and feel connected to other people's opinions outside my immediate circle.

Starting a new piece: As I mentioned previously many of the works start with the image that is spontaneously captured in response to a ‘punctum’ in an intense moment of heightened awareness. The rest of the process follows, although I do constantly carry pens and a notebook to make sketches of ideas for installations or compositions. Often I have to make drawings first to understand what I am trying to achieve before mimicking the process in Photoshop taking into account the boundaries set by the software and hardware. There is a marked difference in the hand-eye horizontal relationship that occurs through drawing that substantially changes when working on the computer – the realignment of vision to accommodate the alienation of the organ and appendage on separate planes is something that I explore in my processes. The works have naturally evolved over time, I don't particularly work on finite projects, the pieces seem to mutate out of themselves with my guidance.

Art heroes/heroines: I constantly return to Manet when considering the internal compositions of my work and the picture-object relationship to reference surface there within. I am also interested in the links between the Pointillists, pixilation and the bitmap process that I employ, reducing an image to its most basic components of detail and form. The photograms of Man Ray and Laszlo Maholy-Nagy informed a lot of my decisions in the aquatint process around layering and successive printing. Most recently Cornelia Parker’s exhibition at Alan Cristea which saw her using the photogravure process with found photo negatives and various liquids, has given me lots of ideas for etching and cyanotypes. I had the pleasure of hearing both Cornelia Parker and Christiane Baumgartner speak at Alan Cristea for their respective solo exhibitions; Baumgartner’s work in particular has been an on-going inspiration over the years, through her journey from video to woodcuts.

Narrative, viewer: I’m not sure if narrative is a word I associate closely with my practice, the properties of the image and the internal dialogue between medium and process are as much the subject. However what is important to me and I hope comes through for the viewer is the word attention, born out of looking. In our ever-accelerating world that I draw upon in abundance, I place great value on the art of taking time to observe through reduction of speed. I use the detail and the phenomena of the hand-cut mark in order to draw the viewer in and slow them down to observe the spaces that punctuate the image. Indeed the cut-marks are also important in the work’s role as a picture-object on the threshold of both two and three dimensions, moving through figuration to abstraction. As the digital print and the cut-code come into focus at varying distances in space, the viewer is required to re-position themselves in front of the work, changing conclusions and perspectives informing their awareness of a temporal and physical relationship to the artwork.

Titles: I find titling quite tricky, some come more naturally than others but most often they will present themselves to me in something I am reading which relates to or has inspired the piece. My last body of work entitled At the Moment of Being Seen, which engages the viewer with a physical act of seeing through their situation in relation to the work, was inspired by from some literature around Virgina Wolf's 'moments of being', mixed with a play on the title of another show at the South London Gallery, which brought together works concerned with modes of listening.

Future: It's actually a lovely buoyant time to be asked that question and an exciting note to end on. I have just received an award of mentoring and a bursary towards a group show at Photofusion next June. Photofusion are a photographic centre who I have turned to for the last five years for all my digital printing needs, although through the conversations in the workshop they have nurtured my work in so many invisible ways as the technician there seems to know something about everything.

I was chosen from their annual SALON show which selects work from one hundred of it's members entries, followed by a selection of four artists to show together in the summer SELECT exhibition. This gives me a great opportunity to explore the temporal cyanotype process which has piqued my interest for a while, due to it's nature as an historical process with it's functional associations linked to mapping, blueprints and rapid reproductions.

I have also just been offered a two year post of Printmaking Fellow at City&Guilds of London Art School, which will allow me to further explore and expand my work within etching, in particular the aquatint resin process which I was using to make plates in conjunction with my hand-cut paper pieces. Whilst the hand-cut digital prints still remain a central pillar to my practice, taking these techniques into photographic and printmaking processes allows me to expand my ideas and the context surrounding my work. Furthermore as I described earlier, instead of the cutting element being a bookend to the work, in employing these alternative processes the cut-object becomes manifested in the printed material and the controlled event of the cut gets shuffled into the history of the process; allowing for the latter layers to rise to the physical and visible surface in an undisciplined process.

If you would like to see more of the artist's work click here for their website

Publishing date of this interview 12/01/16