VISUAL ASSOCIATION GAME
In 2002 The Royal College of Art invited alumni to produce a single new drawing for an exhibition, which would reflect their views on contemporary modes and systems of communication.
As a member of the public I received an invitation to this show at their Kensington Gore site. All drawings were for sale. My memory is a tad foggy of the exact rules of the sale but I recall we were given the opportunity to buy just one drawing at a fixed price of £50. Most importantly we were not informed who made each drawing.
This anonymity immediately caught my attention because one wouldn’t be swayed by fame or notoriety in choosing a drawing to bid upon. Of course I was excited that I might pick up a Kitaj, Hockney or Blake along the way but thought it would be fairly unlikely to recognise one of their new drawings, given the theme of the exhibition and that the manner of making drawings is often quite removed from an artist’s recognisable mature style.
I knew it would be a bit of a bun fight come the evening, and so (I admit) against the spirit of things, I invited a bunch of friends and family to buy on my behalf so along as I choose the work!
Only on parting with your money were you told the name of the artist and I left the show with 6 very interesting drawings by 6 artists I hadn’t come across. How exciting!!
I have lived in the same house in Camberwell for 19 years and for 15 of those years I have thoroughly enjoyed looking at these drawings, always hung together on a wall off a staircase landing. In the autumn we moved house and it was only last weekend that I opened the last of the removal company cardboard boxes. Titled ‘Art’ it contained the 6 framed Royal College of Art drawings. Still stuck on the back of the frames were the little yellow post-it-notes with the artist’s name inscribed and for the first time I wanted to know more about them and what they’ve been up to since 2002.
I jumped onto the net and looked them up wondering if there was any reference to ‘my’ drawing in their present work or if I could see or manufacture any association. It was this process of desperately seeking a link between the 2002 drawing and their present work that initiated this blog. It made me consider how adept we are at making visual connections and post rationalising associations and how powerful our desire to make one’s own unique relationship with a piece of art. Instead of just settling down and being with the piece of work I find I jump to not just what it makes me think of but another piece of art that shares that feeling. I read recently about the extraordinary eidetic memory of certain savants and thought, as I was freely spinning off in an associative visual memory exercise, that we all actually have this hard drive of stored images even if they are not recalled as easily and accurately.
With the avalanche of information faced each day we can question our lack of knowledge and experience and with that unfortunately, sometimes our self-worth. Perhaps the craze of Instagram to record and file is way to deal with this and present some kind of ordered expression of self. If so one is on a hiding to nothing.
As a novice ‘Instagramer’, I wanted to play a visual game and use these Royal College of Art drawings as the trigger. I would produce a mind map starting with one of the six drawings. I would look up the artist and take the first image that popped up on the net. Thereafter I would only use memory and notate the visual association from one image onto another and then back to the original drawing. I set myself a target of doing this in exactly 9 steps within 3 minutes. Of course one edits in one’s head before writing so of course it is to some degree, a controlled exercise. However I was fascinated in the outcome. I would post the 9 images, which would sit in 3 rows of my Instagram feed. I would then do the same for the remaining 5 Royal College of Art drawings and so post 54 images in all.
The purpose, if there is a one, is to produce an automatic and subconscious expression of my visual memory store and consider whether these 54 images do indeed reflect a personality that I recognise. (Besides there’s only a certain amount of times I handle posting something about my own work!)
Instagram – perhaps the most readily used of the visual social media modes of communication – has given people a very powerful and new way of expressing themselves. I appreciate not everyone wants or needs to show off but for many of us posting these often-fantastical images presents an opportunity to illuminate a personal idealism that was previously unaffordable when one had to purchase the actual stuff to show off and express.
We are very discerning about the things we want to post – we choose carefully the furniture, the cars, the hotel, the clothes, the shoes, the jewellery, the food, the family pic or the pretty-much-anything, before posting. I am not commenting on the self-centred and dangerous nature of social media but instead concentrating on the fun part – looking at how people present their interests in a refined and edited format, which Instagram allows. This game is about trying to unsettle this refinement, to encourage you to use your subconscious and then at speed make automatic associations using your memory alone.