Monday, 7 November 2011

2nd International Illustration Symposium. MMU Day Two. 4.11.11

I attended the second day of this symposium the overall purpose of which was to explore links between writing, text and illustration.

Jim Walker from Maidstone kicked things off with an exploration of ‘The Autographic Impulse’, using the work of Matthew Richardson, Martin O’Neill and Graham Rawle to explore his theme.

Essentially he was investigating two strands of these artists work; materiality and the urge to collect,

The chosen artists work with very real things and interact with them in differing ways. Walker discussed the idea of palimpsest in collage work, uncovering, stratification, recovering layering obscuring revealing a kind of illustrative archaeology.

He then explored the secondary theme of controlling, sorting, sifting, cataloguing that went on in the artists studio. Artists such as Cornell and Rauschenberg were also referred to. As Walker explored the “archival Impulse” (Hal Foster) he suggested this might be a predominately male preoccupation, though there was some debate about the veracity of that argument later on.

There was a tangential debate about whether Richardson was an artist or an illustrator (that old chestnut) which didn’t really lead anywhere, it’s a debate about semantics and traditions, I don’t think it really matters especially to the creators of the work such as Matthew, some days he’s an artist some days he’s an illustrator, he seems equally at home in each camp, in fact they each in form and enrich each other.

Next up was Clinton Cahill from MMU who talked about this work in response to Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. He made direct links between use of language in the book and the methodology of Joyce with his own abstract illustrative work. There some interesting and unfamiliar reference points here for me, which was exciting. Cahill showed Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's Diagram of Finnegan’s Wake and shown of his own schemas for the story. These almost mind map like diagrams where a really interesting merge of text image and investigation.

He also explore the portmanteau nature of much of the language in the book, again another interesting link was made between the written and visual portmanteau, surreal visual combinations. Cahills reflexive approach to annotating the texts was also inspiring, a real sense of trying to wrestle meaning from the book was established through this process.

Jaleen Grove from Stony Brook University in Canada spoke next. Grove spoke about the views response to both image and text at an almost physiological standpoint. Mirror Neurons providing a sympathetic response in the brain. If the see a picture of someone running our brains on some level respond to this with the feelings and emotion we have when running.

The idea of Logos and Rama. Logos being a diachronic state, stepped, structured hierarchical and linear. Rama being a gush, a gestalt emersion synchronic all at once type of experience. Grove likened the word to Logos and the image to Rama, setting out an argument that the Rama state was a more natural way for us to read and absorb information. Here maybe taking us back to Cahill’s mind maps and schemas as in interesting halfway house.

A call to arms perhaps for the illustrator to embolden themselves and have something to say and to say it in pictures rather than words.

Nannette Hoogslag explored the current role and immanent potential for editorial illustration in shaping new modes of reading and user experience within online news publishing platforms.

Hoogslag explored the issues around digitisation, in conjunction with the rapid emergence of reading devices such as Kindle and the iPad, which has meant that e-publishing has become the fastest growing format for the newspaper industry. In 2010 61 percent of Americans read their news online, surpassing newsprint readership. This change challenges the capacity of illustration to adapt to the characteristics of these fast-evolving media formats. As yet there are no satisfactory online models for integration of text and editorial illustration. Currently it is seldom commissioned for online contexts and this important form of reflective communication is under-used.

This raises questions about cause and implications of the use and possibilities open for editorial illustration in online platforms. As the only alternative information and communication medium operating alongside text and news photography, what is the significance of editorial illustration? And if illustration is to be considered an effective part of the online editorial environment, what aspects of its specific qualities might need to be foregrounded or changed?

Hoogslag was critical of illustrators who seemed to fear or avoid using technology there where references not by Nannette to ‘cup cake’ illustration and knitting. For me this was a really important debate and central to the future of illustration, it had great resonances for me with the work of David Gauntlett in his book Making is Connecting. I agree with Hoogslag its important for illustrators to work with this emerging technology but its also essential that we don’t loose sight of that human/analogue aspect that illustration brings to the table.

Adrian Holme spoke next, he lectures in visual theory and art history on BA Illustration courses at Camberwell College of Art and Design, UAL, and Maidstone, University for the Creative Arts (UCA). With a background in both art and biology, his research interests include the investigation of the division between art and science that opened up during the Renaissance. He is a practising artist working across installation, performance and drawing.

Holme used the work of Marshal McLuhan the Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar to explore what illustrations future may look like. He quoted from McLuhan’s 1967 book “The medium is the massage”

Holme explained how he uses McLuhan’s work to help students understand the impact of technologies on human interaction with information, how our senses speed up to match the technology of the time.

“With the coming of print the eye speeded up and the voice quieted down”.

McLuhan 1962

With electricity came ‘electric speed’ The photograph,the telegraph transatlantic cables all of these and following technologies collapse time. Presenting us with an “All at onceness” an interconnectedness and ultimately and interestingly for the illustrator a move away from specialism.

Again there was referencing the Rama and Logo theory of previous speaker Jaleen Grove, Holme talked about classic type layouts in contrast to concrete poetry and isotypes.

Holme also referenced a Mark Webster Varoom 8 2008 article on moving image (a subject revisited in the latest Varoom 16 2011) Quoting Webster he said illustrators have the ability to make film “unfettered by the dogma of tradition”. Whether this is in a knowing or unknowing way I suppose depends on the work but the end result is the same fresh, challenging work that expands the term illustration.

The keynote speaker was Ewa Satalecka Lecturer of The Academy of Fine arts in Katowice and Polish Japanese IT Institute in Warsaw, and curator of the international conferences in design. Ewa’s encyclopedic experience in Typography and design combined with her clear and succinct delivery made this a compelling presentation. She talked about the lineage of image as type, of images as the precursor to type and encouraged illustrators to take ownership of type, message and (again) technology.

There were so many interconnecting reference points I could only grab a few, below are here a few I remember.

Ewa also showed some of her own kinetic typography experiments and achievements. Of the examples she gave.

Basalt etched pebbles

Lucas De Groot

Paul Rand – rebus

Egyptian hieroglyphs

Piotor Mtodozeniec

Michael Johnson

Romek Marber

Henryk Tomaszewski

Roman Cielewicz


Ed Fella


Washing instructions

The symposium was inspiring and intense at times bewilderingly academic but a wholehearted success. The intellectual equivalent to eat seven roast dinners in a row. I now need to take some time to digest it all.

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