8 Opening-2013-tapestry

Stumped: Jonny Briggs, Matthew Humphreys and Samira Kafala

Stumped invites three artists/photographers to present and discuss a single, often incomplete, project with which they have reached an impasse. The event happens in a public forum, enabling those presenting their work to have a constructive conversation as well as support from a gathered audience.

Following the Gallery’s most recent event Stumped: Photographing Your Family, led by artist Jonny Briggs, we asked the three individuals who contributed to the evening a bit more about the projects they presented. You can find out about and apply for our next edition of Stumped: Photographing Yourself, led by artist Trish Morrissey, on our website.

Jonny Briggs

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1. What led to you working on this project?

The short answer to this question would be an interest in my parents, the roles and relationships of my family life and upbringing, and the childhood mindset. Yet there is more to unravel here than these interests.

This project has been evolving for the past 9 years, where it has been important for me to work with ideas that ‘feel right’ – before I know why they feel right. They reach me as a feeling first, before my thoughts are able to articulate them, so in this sense it is almost as if my thoughts are following the clues that my intuition leaves behind. The works are a translation of an ambiguous feeling of blurred borderlines, and the words to explain them are articulations of those blurs – so it’s like a game of Chinese Whispers, where the words can never get at what the pictures are getting at, and the pictures can never get at what the feeling/intuition/hunch is getting at.

Throughout this time making the work I have noticed patterns and links between the pieces, and have started to question further the reasons why I’ve been making the work I have been – beyond being an interest, it’s an interest in my interests, like a self-psychoanalysis. A lot of the motivation for the work appears to link to my childhood in attempt to fill or re-arrange parts that I missed out on, in a therapeutic re-rendering of relationships and situations allowing me to give things a voice that were unspoken before, and through this voice establishing new perspectives on it.

It’s so often that we just speak about thoughts and facts during our daily lives – what we’ve done, what we’re going to do, what the weather is like. Yet it’s often rare – both in working lives and personal lives, to talk about ambiguities and feelings – yet this is what relationships are made from, so the work is an opportunity to give these blurred borderlines an outlet.

2. What is the work?

The work always feels like it is moving and developing for me – almost like a searching process. Yet here is an artist statement which feels like it links to where the work is at at the moment;

In search of lost parts of my childhood I try to think outside the reality I was socialised into and create new ones with my parents and self. Through these I question the boundaries between us, between child/adult, self/other, nature/culture, real/fake in attempt to revive my unconditioned self, beyond the family bubble. Although easily assumed to be photoshopped or faked, upon closer inspection the images are often realised to be more real than first expected. Involving staged installations, the cartoonesque and the performative, I look back to my younger self and attempt to re-capture childhood nature through my assuming adult eyes.

3. How were you stumped and what will your next steps be to develop the body of work?

There’s often this circle that creative people can get into, where the work becomes obsessive yet not progressive. There is safety in the known, like a comfort blanket, a familiar bubble, yet through clinging on to an idea that we know works, the work can become unfulfilling. Often what makes a piece successful is its difference, its originality – yet through its replication it can become too familiar, normalised, and ceases to feed the mind in the ways it did before. I remember a time during my BA when this happened – when I kept making the same work and struggled to see outside of my bubble. To be creative is to take risks, and I had too much fear to take risks at this point. I felt stuck, was over-thinking the work, and I knew that it was at a crossroads, that I wanted something else from it – yet couldn’t quite articulate it.

During this period I had a tutorial with Roger Ackling who gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve had. At the start of the tutorial I said the work was in a difficult place, and that I was in a crisis point; to which he replied ‘lucky you. Being in a crisis point is one of the best places to be. It shows that you feel things can change, and change for the better. It’s a sign that the work needs to take a leap in a new direction, and it is far better to be in a place like this, than a place that is static.’ Roger helped me to realise the importance of embracing change.

Over-thinking the work can lead me to be stumped. I love that phrase ‘can’t see the woodland through the trees’ – and I often see thinking about something as proximity – as looking at a part of a tree, yet through intuition we can feel the whole and get a sense of the forest. Thinking can only get you so far. So from now on I want to engage more with what feels right, the ambiguities and transgressions of feelings and impulses, and worry about articulating what’s going on with the work afterwards. Through this process I will be further enabled to ask that question ‘What is my mind telling me?’ and further give my ambiguities a voice.

Samira Kafala

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1. What led to you working on this project?

My curiostity to make sense of things. I’ve been working on a version of this project all my life and I imagine I will continue to do so. Even before I took my first photograph I was always looking for meaning – trying to formulate ideas that made sense of the world.

It’s a fluid and ever shiffiting process. I’ve learnt to trust my intuition and just photograph whatever I become most aware of. Whatever keeps coming back to me as a thing to photograph. Trees, statues, reflections, bodies, bones. From these images I’m creating a language through which I can articulate how I understand things to be. I’m feeling my way to the bottom of these ideas or perceptions, which are often too vague and illusive to be clear thoughts let alone to be spoken in words.

2. What is the work?

It’s an ongoing conversation without a beginning and an end, it will never be fully resolved. In practical terms it has evolved as a collection of images seen in different combinations. Each image builds upon the next to tell part of a story. My story of how I see the world.

3. How were you stumped and what will your next steps be to develop the body of work?

I’m stumped by how to cram more meaning into each image. I feel like each picture is a short phrase but I want it to be a paragraph or a chapter or even an entire novel. You can do so much with colour, light, shape, grain, texture, mood, and composition but can you ever do enough. Maybe it will always be about the multiplicity of images, the combination and sequence. The trick is to keep trying, to keep being curious enough to make that complete image that says everything but leaves out just enough to maintain the sense of mystery and magic.

Matthew Humphreys

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1.What led to you working on this project?

I have worked with my family for about fifteen years on film and video projects.  Both of my parents are deaf and my father is going blind, this was a huge inspiration for me to create work about sound and communication.  I often form relationships with cameras; I explore the aesthetics of different cameras discovering the language that each device offers. With my fathers’ gradual blindness I found that I was undertaking the role of the family photographer, this became intensely entwined with my practice as an artist.  My work centres on communication, often embedding universal social themes, within contexts of the everyday and employing languages that transcend words. Recently I have started to use my iPhone as a tool where I capture notes.  I found its portability coupled with its unobtrusive nature a perfect device for recording day-to-day life at my parents.  This led to recording every day rituals, dinner times, walks, and conversations; I quickly amassed a great archive of material.

2. What is the work?

Over the past four years one of the rituals that I have recorded was every goodbye from my parents’ house, I have videoed over 120.  Presented with the videos I display pages of the dialogue that I have transcribed from each video in the format of a script.  I have also experimented with the possibilities of selecting still images from the videos.  Each video follows a similar pattern, shot loosely, but with an act of knowing what is being captured and allowing for chance.

3. How were you stumped and what will your next steps be to develop the body of work?

I became embroiled within the personal nature of this project, a problem that many people have in working with the family.  I was unsure firstly how it would be received in a contemporary photographic context and secondly, how does this communicate to the individual. In the presentation I showed various manifestations of my project, the video, a photographic idea as well as an installation view.  I received great and valuable feedback within this forum; this gave me a clearer pathway into finally realising this body of work.  I am currently working on two forms of this work; the first is a gallery installation where all of the videos are played across three video projectors, a triptych of goodbyes, this will be accompanied by the complete transcribed text.  I am not sure how the sound will work at the moment and am starting to experiment with different possibilities.  The second realisation of the work will be a book, using a combination of the stills and text.

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