Emergence by Kim Shaw, September 2022

Posted by Fiona Cable on

Emergence means a process of becoming, coming into existence, coming to be. In my current work I’m thinking of it as a circumstance that emerges through a series of previous decisions not made by me. It is as if all the elements that go into the making of the work are embedded in the product I start with, as potentials. The final work appears as an arrival point where the elements that emerge through various processes embody a quality that is irreducible and unpredictable. 

My unplanned process has not been straightforward and depends on improvisation that involves searching for goals, tools, and ways to make art when there are no clear goals, solution paths, or expected solutions. This includes putting aside any preconceived notions and attachments to outcome and being present to an experimentation that is a kind of trial, puzzle or game. The work gradually emerges through a micro-focus and almost random shifts of attention that help me detach from the overall work in advance.

Each artwork starts with the only known element, the used and discarded substrate as opposed to a blank canvas. The used surfaces include protective table covers (craft paper and cloth) of art school benches, as well as painting rags. In this respect, I am aware of the way Auckland artist Richard Maloy, in one of his Starkwhite exhibitions, repurposed dirty tables from Elam School of Fine Arts, and presented them as a hybrid of photographic documentation and gestural abstract painting.

My initial reaction is to respond to actions taken and marks unconsciously by making deliberate marks, with a brush stroke, a pencil stroke or a line of thread, against the found ‘unconscious’ marks and stains. The use of found substrate has affected colour choices in yarn and paint while staining has been used to enhance the found, used aspect of the surfaces. I regard many of the inherited marks as having been unconsciously made by some other mind, and sometimes I mimic this blurred intention when I add marks.

Then, step-by-step decisions are made. I am compelled to act upon visible sensations that appeal to my sensibilities or, a coercive feeling that seems to have a form of physical/bodily reality even if it is not visible. It is important to me to be open to exposure and uncertainty to find the possibility of a work.

Imagery develops via building from one pictorial element to another where unpredictable pictorial components interact in a “process of becoming” a complete work that exhibits unusual and unpredictable qualities. This is described in Jan Verwoert’s discussion of “emergence” within painting in his essay on Tomma Abts: “a picture would be emergent if it contained various layers of its own structure”.  Verwoert, Tomma Abts (2005).

I am aware that the investigation of working with non-traditional methods is well established historically as I have constantly questioned material and mark-making hierarchy; paint versus yarn, canvas versus used paper, and painting with a brush versus drawing through stitching. The choices to juxtapose different materials are in the hope to open my practice to more effects for communication and to see how to disrupt my own habitual ways of working. 

Furthermore, I have been thinking about the different associations my resource choices bring to making artwork. Most of the elements I have included are by-products of a process less valued than artwork. Almost half of recycled paper goes into manufacturing the material used to make cardboard boxes. Discarded painting rags are usually unconsidered being dirty, by-products of the making process that are discarded in favour of the more valuable finished artwork. Yarn holds associations of craft, practical material suitable for such uses as the production of textiles. I am interested in the tension in combining by-products with valued traditions of painting.

Emergence is evidence of processual actions. I aim for the work to be understood dynamically as a process of spontaneous movement, unfolding and arising out of itself.

Join us for an afternoon with the artist, Sunday 4 September, 1 – 4pm.

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