I have spent a good proportion of my day scanning the negatives from a camera I made out of a matchbox from the shop; Shop Girls shop. Surprisingly enough, a few images actually appeared. In fact I can make out four or five individuals who I cajoled into posing for a picture. I assured them it was hit or miss as to whether any image would be captured by me – after all I am Shop Girl and not Photography Girl.
When I asked people to pose this usually meant I had to reveal my ‘secret’ identity as Shop Girl – undercover artist (oh Sophie – why can’t I be like you?). Ok, so they laughed, rolled their eyes, but sometimes they seemed genuinely interested in the process, how it worked, and what I was doing and going to do. I really want to develop these pictures and show them in the shop. I would like for them to be appreciated – not because they are good photographs (which conventionally they are not), but because it is something special which has come from this wee shop in this wee village, and that in my eyes is a job well done.
I have been watching this program on Sky Arts called Work of Art: Next Great Artist. It’s a reality show of sorts where the contestants are artists who have to make artworks in a very short timeframe – mostly one day until midnight and present them to the public, to art critics, curators and established artists. The winner gets a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. Every week they loose one artist contestant and the presenter China Chow always says there’s only one rule in art and that is: does it work… and this week your piece did not work for us.
So does my art piece work? And what does that mean? In this context what does the word ‘work’ mean? Also she does add ‘for us’ at the end so the decision is not finite. It is the rules that they have to loose one artist contestant every week. Maybe sometimes the art does ‘work’ but not as well as the other artists pieces or maybe more than one artist’s art does not work but they just have to pick the least effective. I am just speculating, and we are talking about a TV show here, but basically the ‘not working’ thing really happens in context with other art works.
So let’s take this Shop Girl project; images of the village shop created using a matchbox pinhole camera are developed onto paper made out of the receipts from the shop. Is there a set of artworks where it could be judged in context? At this point let’s call this project a documentary. In context with other documentary projects like say a film or a series of photographs or a collection of writing how does it compare? Does it tell us something about village shops or girls who work in village shops? I just remembered when I was in 1st year at university I was really struggling financially and I went to see the international student advisor about what I could do, he told me to go back home and get a job in a shop. This was enough to inspire me to endure my hardship as the last thing I wanted to do was follow his advice – funny how things pan out?
As it happens I sent an image of the exterior of the shop to a photographer friend today. He said that apart from identifying it as a street scene there wasn’t enough detail in the image to identify the building, the location, or at what period in time the image had been captured. It is a very vague image, but on the other hand its vagueness means that it is open to interpretation. Here we might come back to trusting the makers’ word I mentioned yesterday. Does this fit with the idea of documentary? Trusting the word of the person presenting? Well when I think of Louis Theroux documentaries I find myself trusting what he presents. Does a document mean fact? It is a fact that the image is of the shop. It may not be very clear but it is a factual document of the light that passed through the pinhole and burned an image onto the celluloid for as long as I held open the cardboard shutter.
So the images alone, seen without me telling the viewer the fact, tell us very little, what about what it is printed onto. The paper is square, it has an uneven texture, it is different to paper you can buy but maybe reminds you of some exotic paper you may have come across, but you cannot tell from what it is made from. But it is a fact that they are made out of the receipts from the shop.
The viewer is given no clues as to where these objects came from. At this point there is a choice to be made; accept that these are ‘kind of nice’, ‘interesting’ or dismiss them entirely they do ‘not work’ for you, investigate the objects further; ask someone else, read this blog to find out the facts or the other option; imagine what they are and make up your own narrative like when you see an untitled abstract painting. The viewer is presented with bare facts without words and it is up to them to deduce what indeed this document is. Hmm, it’s like CSI!
This evening a poet who lives near here dropped by the workshop to see Ian and Oona, he was quite charming and asked about my project. He said the paper I had made was beautiful and suggested it would be perfect for writing little Haiku’s. I was flattered by the connection to Japan (the paper is square I think this influences its potential use). As he is a poet I showed him the words I’d torn out yesterday. I spilled them out of their paper pocket. We had a giggle putting unlikely words together. The more we discovered the funnier it became and the funnier it was the more we laughed, until the breath we expelled from laughing prevented us from assembling the words and made them disperse all over the table and onto the floor. The poets name was Cathal and his visit spread a little joy to the perplexing feeling I had around words yesterday.