UCA Farnham Fine Art Student Profile 2014 – Alison McFadden

Tell is what your work is about?
My work has explored gesture and materiality in continuing work entitled Train Move Trace.  
Train is daily fitness training that has been developed to improve project specific muscle strength and flexibility.
Move uses dance and fitness techniques, propelling my body to move around in space, in ways related to particular projects.
Trace is the marks made by gestures flowing from the Moves, in either paint, pigment or graphite powderon paper, mirror, primed MDF boards and water sprayed muslin.

I am curious about what my body can achieve in terms of fitness and dance.  I am compelled to move in different ways and am exploring how that movement of the body works in space.  I am absorbed by how movement is driven by the internal world and how that desires to connect with external space in particular way.  So I am fascinated by the relationship between the internal and external world and how colour can communicate the emotion of that connection.
Research has been an important part of the the development of my practice. In the beginning, Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 1, that utilises resistance training in a series of studio experimentations with drawing and restraint was interesting.  This work influenced my idea to work with the High Kicks exercise in my High Kicks 1, 2, studio pieces & High Kicks 3 the installation piece made in the Gallery. This lead me to the Japanese Gutai artist Shiraga practiced in his studio using a rope hanging from the ceiling to move around and he used his feet to make marks in poured paint on canvas to make colourful, abstract canvases.  He inspired me additionally because he was still working in this very physical manner into his nineties right up to his death, showing and selling in well known galleries around the world.  To be so fit and active at that age inspired me enormously.  That vitality and his method helped me to reflect on ways of using my fitness and dance and to consider some apparatus to move around my studio.  As I described above my chosen form was the Gym Rings.  I felt like I was taking the baton from him to continue on his work in my own modern manner.
In terms of filming styles, Bruce Nauman’s experimentation with using dance, as an artist, informed the way I chose to use a fixed point tripod in the studio and in the gallery to record the work.
As my work progressed I looked at Juliana Cerqueira Leite, I saw some of her work at the Cass Foundation Sculpture Park, who works with the body and space.  Her ideas resonated with my own and her theoretical thinking is particularly situated in Phenomenology and Embodiment, ideas I am also researching.  I am also reflecting a lot about colour and researching that.

How did you develop the idea that produced for this interim exhibition work?
I was fortunate to have a great big studio space this summer, and it was such a gift to move around in. I naturally continued working with dance, as I train in ballet and also fitness, as I work out and take various fitness classes.  My work was increasingly influenced by these two physically driven, facets of me. 

I had a brilliant book on Dance Anatomy and from various exercises I was doing from reading the book I took one which resonated with ideas associated with resistance training, called High Kicks.  using a rubber pilates band and a handle fixed on the wall i used the band to use resistance to break down the muscle which then rebuilds stronger. Over time with regularly performing the exercise, focusing on specific muslce movement when you do so, the legs would begin to kick higher.
I wanted to find a method of moving around the studio in order to use my feet to paint with. In the woods opposite to my house I found a rope hanging from a tall tree.  It hung over a deeply carved out track.  A sandy track cut into by armoured cars.  So it was suspended quite high above the ground but you could leap off of the bank and swing out over the deep track.  So I had a go and realised that a nylon rope is hard to hold as it burns your hands.  There was a loop tied on the bottom and when I had a swing out over the track holding that it was more comfortable.  I did have a crash into the roots and lower trunk of a tree, smacking my lower back.  Having survived that on reflection I thought perhaps Gym Rings would be the answer.  
So I bought Gym Rings and installed them over a beam in the studio and began to experiment with what Moves I could make with them.  I could be balletic, flex, stretch, use strength to turn upside down, pike or do the splits.  I could swing, twirl and hold up above the ground.  It felt so exciting and free.
So I began to experiment.  Large paper rolls were installed to record the progress of my High Kicks projects.  I used graphite powder on my ballet shoes to Trace the height the legs were getting to as I went along, by kicking up and across to the paper.  The rolls gave a curl as they reached the floor, when the foot kicked against the wall graphite would mark the paper and also fly off of the foot and drop to the floor, some of which would be caught in the paper curl.  Over time this created a scientific graph like Trace as it settled which was very fragile if it was moved.  Also I placed handmade Indian paper on the floor and the movement of foot work during the exercise left a Trace there and also I felt prints from the ballet shoes as I moved around.  
I worked out with the gym rings that I could use the floor the wall and the sides to place surfaces to make marks on. So I experimented with various surfaces including paper, primed MDF board, mirror and fabric.  

As I worked on I trained in the gym specifically to each project, using a Personal Trainer to guide my progress.  
The MA Interim Exhibition came at a time when I had developed two High Kicks projects.  One using two colours, graphite powder and ultramarine blue pigment to record with and without resistance forms for the Ballet exercise.  And one which just used Graphite powder.  I decided the Graphite powder alone looked better and gained access to the James Hockey Gallery in the week before the hang week and I was able to make an installation over a number of days.   The repeated choreography, the ritualistic nature of the work and the time based aspect could be realised in situ and the delicate nature of the work and its mixed permanency meant the work was suited to this approach.
Making a performative based installation in a gallery over time was a fabulous experience.  
All of the works I have made have been filmed at some stage.  The films were to be part of the final pieces.
The Gym Rings work had progressed to a stage where I had experimented with paper and MDF and mirror. I liked the idea of risk fused into using the mirror.  I thought of a mirror when I was looking for a found object to use for a wall piece and idea which had arising in a tutorial with Jo. She wondered about photographs or TV scressns.  On relfection I thought of a mirror and we had one in the garden behind our yellow shed.   It was wall mounted in the studio and I could swing and hit the mirror with my feet having dipped my feet in pigment and coated the mirror in gum arabic to encourage the pigment to stay on the surface.  Having been inspired by the risk taking aspect of Parcour or Free Running viewed on the internet.  This was my version of taking some risk and adding some tension.

On viewing the gallery to discuss the installation piece I realised the height was a factor worth using.  So I got the diagram for the gallery and from the dimensions had MDF boards cut so that they could be hung floor to the height of the wall with just a 10cm gap in between, to make use of the height.
So both ideas evolved from experimentation and reflection and in response to the Gallery space itself.
As I worked with the Gym Rings and as I trained I was stronger and could hold longer.  This assisted my ability to relflect, place and hold so that I could think nore about choreography and make reflective geture in specific places rather than just a random mark making arising from movement.  It became more of a thoughful, measured and responsive refelctive  process of painitng with my movement and feet.

When it came to hanging the work I did encountered an issue with size.  Having carefully used the given gallery dimensions from the official plans the panels were too large to all fit in from floor to the top of the wall.  I eventually discovered that the windows had been changed since the drawings were made and the technician had not realised that on giving me the drawings.  This turned out to be a happy accident as instead of floating all three boards off of the wall in a vertical the top two were floated and a sloping plinth was made for the bottom panel which floated away at the same space and then took the board out from the wall and it sloped down towards the floor.  This made the work dynamic and referenced the floor that being where the work had been made.
The Gallery gave rise to another issue for me and that was a conflict in planning which meant the making of the work beforehand was seen as controversial and due to issues of space I had to take half of the installation away, effectively the left leg paper roll and floor works.  This did compromise the work but was inevitable in a group show setting given the space available.  Also I had to hang the screens for each piece very close to one another so that they talked to one another not a concept I would have chosen.  As i would have like the films to talk to the relevant art works associated with the film but have remained next to but separate from each other  This did compromise the work but again that is one of the issues which can arise in a group show situation.  Given the restraints I think we managed to present the work in the best way possible.
What did you learn from the process of producing your interim Farnham exhibition?

This summer has been a series of experimentations and I learnt to really open up to that process. Allowing the process to flourish and to use the exhibition as a pin point on the line being drawn on the map of my practice.  As the Train Move Trace process developed and reflecting on my research and tutorials, as well as my practice, I understood how vital it is to remain authentic to your own process and work.  An MA is about finding that authenticity and flying with it.  Ideas influence that but the driving force remains your own.  You arrive at a practice and theoretical thinking that is unique to you.  The confidence to delineate and stick to that comes as you chase the tail of the white rabbit and eventually catch it up.
What are you planning next?
I would dearly like to find another home for my Gym Rings to take that work on further.  
I have also been playing with Run, currently I have made a film using Flip cameras strapped to my arm during a run on local Army land which is to become emptied of the army next year.  I may take Run further.   I am training to run a charity run with my son for Cancer Research next year so I could apply my Train Move Trace process to running.  So this is an idea I may take forward in some way.

I am also open minded at the moment and will take the next few days and weeks to see what evolves, what my new space is like and how I can apply my process, if I chose to.  I may explore some 3D work and also take painting and drawing and film making further using photography to document as I go.



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