About William Fowler

I study Art and English Lit at the University of Reading. My work includes painting, drawing, installation, film, performance, writing, and music. My main influences are surrealism, psychedelia, philosophy, literature, op art, and Arte Povera.

Sound Workshop

I have a profound interest in sound. I love music and have a keen desire to learn about the process of making it. I’m learning to play guitar and aspire to record my own music soon. It’s all very well writing a good song but to raise it to its full potential requires the right equipment, editing, and knowing where/how/what to record.

The workshop was not what I expected; it was extremely performative. We were introduced to a few sound artists including Pauline Oliveros, and we listened to her work with ‘Deep Listening Band.’ I found this mesmerising and entrancing. It reminded me of the intro to Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” one of my favourite songs. It inspired me to research more sound art and experiment with it. I’d already made some music for my ‘Cast-iron’ video, so I had some experience in making sound.

I think sound art is often overlooked; we had never really explored it thus far in the course. This workshop changed this. The first activity was to learn and perform a Georgian chant, which goes like this:

Ee ave na na

Va to ne vo

Va do ba to

Ne vo

We were split into two groups of four – my group sang the chant in it’s bass tones, and the other group sang the melody. Even though none of us were experienced singers, when we sang the song together we harmonised well, and it sounded hauntingly good. This gave me more confidence in my singing voice, which I might explore in my practice. For the next exercise, we paired up, held hands, and one of us closed our eyes while the other lead us around the room. We were told to softly sing to each other and respond to the noises each other were making. The exercise was about listening, because in sound production listening is just as important as making the sounds.

We were then introduced to some of the sound recording equipment that the art department has, including various types of microphone. I experimented with some of the equipment by playing my guitar, and seeing how each microphone affected the sound.

The workshop really enlightened me on sound art and really inspired me. It made me wonder why I haven’t made much sound art yet and made me certain that I’d make sound art in the future.

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Robert Gober

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The Heart Is Not A Metaphor, MoMA, NYC, 2015

Robert Gober (born 1954, Connecticut) is an American sculptor, whose work has informed my spring term practice.

The first word that comes to mind when I think about Gober’s work is ‘eccentricity.’ His sculptures are always unexpected; always as if seen for the first time. His work is striking, yet can be wonderfully simple – it often involves domestic objects, which he presents in a playful and theatrical way.

The pieces connote themes of sexuality, politics, gender, and religion. They also depict a narrative and seem to suggest an alternate universe, in which objects and images of Gober’s interest relate to each other and mean different things.

THE HEART IS NOT A METAPHOR

The Heart Is Not A Metaphor is Gober’s 2015 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, USA. I’m focusing on it in this post because it provides an extensive overview of the artist’s career.

The wildly imaginative exhibition features around 130 of his works across many different mediums, such as sculptures, immersive artistic environments and a plethora of drawings, prints, and photographs. The more or less chronological presentation of the artwork follows the progress of his impressive career, emphasising ideas and motifs which came about in the early 1980s and continue to inspire Gober’s work to this day.

I experienced the exhibition via NOWherelimited’s extremely helpful video on YouTube (all images in this blog post are screenshots from it). Seeing this exhibition made me laugh, it made me wonder, it made me uneasy, and it made me question.

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Some of the sculptural work is quite familiar, even domestic, like this white sink. It is displayed mounted against a camouflage colour-scheme wall, with both taps running.

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Underneath the sink is a small container of rat poison. It is unclear why the rat poison is there – it introduces the idea of death to an otherwise normal image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some sculptures had an air of familiarity, however they were balanced out by some more obscure ones.

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Many of Gober’s works depict feet or legs protruding from walls. This one simply displays a With these you are compelled to consider the person on the other side of the wall: is there one? What can we tell about them from the shoe alone?

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One of the sculptures was simply a paint pot, heavily dented and with paint spilling down the sides. It looks as if extensively used; in fact I originally though it was an artefact from Gober’s own studio. However, it is a sculpture made from scratch to look like a paint pot. Modelled on the brand Gober uses, he carefully painted the branding in exquisite detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are some bizarre and unexplained juxtapositions involved in some of the pieces. Seen below is a mural involving two small drawings, both repeated across the walls and ceiling of an entire room. Here, the entire room is an art piece, rather than individual sculptures. The drawings depict a man hanging by the neck from a tree and a man sleeping. There is also a racial element – the hanging man is black whereas the sleeping man is white, so perhaps this is a comment on the ever-present white privilege. Resting on the floor up against the mural are two large bags of cat litter. We have to wonder if these have any connection to the mural. Does something that is designed to clean/absorb mess have extra meaning when juxtaposed with something so disturbing as the wallpaper? The third element is the wedding dress – standing by itself as if being worn by an invisible bride. Perhaps this connotes purity, which is interesting when juxtaposed with the wallpaper and the cat litter and their opposing connotations.

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Gober’s drawing is very sketchy, not very detailed, and highly expressive – the subject matter is more important than the drawing process here.

He sewed the wedding gown himself and attached it to the frame of a tailor’s dummy to make the wedding dress appear to stand up by itself.

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An entire wall dedicated to drawings of what appear to be genitalia. It is a startling and powerful image to say the least – perhaps the point is to provoke thought on the general public’s attitude and reaction to images of genitals.

Below are more of Gober’s sculptures featuring legs; a seemingly recurrent theme in his work. These raise questions of identity – is Gober inventing characters here? Can we tell anything about the person to whom the legs belong merely by what we see? They are created in fastidious detail; Gober uses both wax and actual human hair to create them.

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Here we have a more surreal work, where the person is fully clothed (from the waist down) and has candles sprouting like mushrooms from his legs. Do the candles connote some kind of religious ritual/practice?

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This example seems to connote vulnerability and raises many questions. They are wearing just socks and lace-up derby shoes, nothing else, and they have musical score written across the buttocks. It is hard to tell what music it is – is the song important? Why is this person naked apart from shoes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This one is dressed entirely differently, with modern trainers and short sports shorts on. Instead of things sprouting out from the legs, there are a series of holes in them. Why is this one dressed differently? Is there a connection between the holes and the clothing?

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This one is different again; instead of a pair of legs coming out of the wall, this one appears to depict a single leg, complete with a sock & a shoe, being born from a featureless torso. This one is particularly striking, giving rise to potential themes of motherhood and pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Here we have a human chest placed upon a plastic bag. In an exploration of hermaphrodism, the bag appears to be female on one side and male on the other – what is Gober trying to say about gender here, if anything?

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An almost Dali-esque arrangement: a flaccid rifle droops over an apple-filled basket, sitting on a small wooden stool. This subverts our idea of the physical qualities of a rifle – instead of being rigid and straight, it appears to be flexible and limp.

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This sculpture appears to depict a block of Swiss cheese with a thin crop of long, straggly hair. This could be interpreted as the personification of a block of cheese by giving it the human attribute of hair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A large stone sculpture of an ear. From the appearance of the rock that surrounds the ear it seems as if excavated, as if it were a fossil.

HOW HAS GOBER’S WORK INFORMED MY PRACTICE?

Gober’s work is a brilliant example of surrealism and abstraction. Although seemingly random, the pieces all seem to be from a common, alternate universe. I love working with ongoing themes, and I find the idea of creating an alternate universe via art fascinating. This idea informed my series of works with painting plastic items.

 

 

 

Spring Term, Week 2 – Pt.2

With the deadline fast approaching, I began to panic and I desperately looked for ways of inspiring myself – I looked online for videos about certain artists (which you can read about here), and I looked around my room and got out every piece of artistic equipment I own:

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This heap of stuff included paper & other materials, sketchbooks, paints, brushes, pencils, pens, as well as my guitar and amplifier. Upon taking this photo I realised the composition of this jumbled mess was quite interesting, and because these are my possessions it says a lot about me as a person. It reveals my love of art and music and that I tend to hoard things. It made me realise that simple artworks are often the most effective, and this at last gave me some inspiration.

My work began to deviate from my winter project and suddenly went in a wholly different direction.

I was looking at the bizarre work of Robert Gober at the time, who rose to fame with sculptures of mundane things like sinks and paint pots, and I thought about how beautifully simple yet effective his work is.

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One of Robert Gober’s 130-odd sculptures at his exhibition, The Heart is Not a Metaphor (2015)

Sculptures like Gober’s paint pot raise questions as to its origin – did Gober deliberately make the pot look battered and heavily used? Or did he buy it purely for painting, happening only to use it as a conceptual art piece later on?

This idea of ‘artefacts’ from an artist’s studio intrigues me, and I started to consider what artefacts from my art equipment collection I could exhibit.

I was slowly beating my creative block and I wanted to defeat it, so I used it to my advantage. Using this idea of simplicity and artefacts, I came up with the idea of taking my desk at home, where my creativity happens, and re-creating it at the art department. I tried carefully to make it depict my mind that week – stressed, feeling ineffective, and procrastinating.

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The piece in its entirety. The site I chose was the dark room, the only fully black room in our studio. It better reflects my actual room in my student house than the usual, white cube layout.

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In this view you can see the list of artists I was recommended to research, and the Tate-style label I made for the piece. The label was actually the first thing I made (complete with the wrong year; I was clearly still in the 2017 mindset) . The language aptly reflects the angst which catalysed the main idea.

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I featured my wastepaper basket in the piece, full of crumpled pieces of paper that represent my failed ideas. Although most are scrap paper used purely for visual effect, some were actual ideas that I’d sketched.

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Shown here is a representation of one of the things I do when I’m procrastinating – make to-do lists. Sometimes making lists of things you need to do gives a false sense of satisfaction and achievement.

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I included a snapped paintbrush, to represent the stress I went through (this is meant to look as if I’d snapped a paintbrush in a fit of anger but in reality they are really hard to break).

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These are some of my acrylic paints and inks; critically, all of them are unopened and unused.

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Perhaps the crux of the entire piece: a notebook with “Art Ideas” written, followed by absolutely nothing. This is a stark representation of creative block.

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If you look carefully you can see the wolf I drew as part of my earlier ideas for week 2’s work, which you can read about here. For this piece, I tore it in two.

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Another important part of the piece is the mirror. I have this mirror on my desk at home and when I had artist block, I would catch sight of my stressed, unproductive self in it, as if my reflection was judging me. Including the mirror means that the viewer can see themselves in the piece, and feel the same emotions.

I think this piece is well-tailored to its audience – it was set up in our year’s shared studio space, and as art students we all experience stress and creative block at times, so I hope this piece comes across as amusing and relatable. If I did the piece again I would perhaps find a different table on which to set up, because this one looks nothing like the one I have in my room. I would also try and make it convey more emotion. There are small details that convey angst, such as the snapped paintbrush and torn paper but as a whole I think the piece lacks emotional impact.

FEEDBACK:

My tutor told me that

Despite this, overall I am proud of the outcome, and the idea has genuinely opened up lots of creative potential. To make this piece, I was able to not only overcome a lack of ideas, but actually use it to my advantage. This has encouraged me to see obstacles in the art-making process not as problems, but opportunities to open my mind.

 

 

 

 

Spring Term, Week 2 – Pt. 1

For week 2, I considered how to develop my practice from the exhibition of my winter project in week 1.

I originally wanted to continue with ideas from Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, such as wolf imagery, the male gaze, and subverted fairytales.

When brainstorming, I carefully considered the feedback I got from my winter project: that my ideas were good but the realisation of them was “thin.” At the time I was also in the process of researching the artists Robert Gober, Sophie Calle, Mariele Neudecker, James Coleman and Christian Boltanski, the practices of whom were greatly inspiring.

I began by sketching out my ideas:

failed art idea 1

This idea stems from the idea of subverting fairytales, inspired by Angela Carter. It focuses on an aspect of fairytales I take issue with: the “happily ever after” at the end. It is unreasonable to expect the characters in a story to be content for the rest of their lives. To me, it is much more effective to have an ending that does not pursue perfection but instead lets the plot and characters fulfil their lives in a realistic way.

In my first idea (above) I intended to communicate this idea by changing the “happily ever after” ending into one that acknowledges the inexorable problems the world has. It would be presented as a fairytale illustration, drawn with watercolours or ink, with the new subversive caption.

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Shown above is another version of the same idea. It has the same drawing and the same format but the caption more explicitly conveys my thoughts on “happily ever after.” It would be presented like the last page in a picture book with annotations scribbled in – “and they all lived happily ever after” would be printed, and the annotations would be hastily written in biro. This would evoke questions of identity – there has to be a person who wrote the annotations, so who is it? Did they own a picture book and angrily scribble over the last line?

It is my strong belief that perfection is impossible and we’d do well to avoid pursuing it. There must be evil and sadness in the world because if there wasn’t, we’d have no concept of good and happiness. As an artwork, this idea would be satirical, yet would  express something I believe everyone must remember in life.

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Moving away from these ideas, my third one is based on the ‘wolf’ theme in The Bloody Chamber. Although this is a crude sketch, this idea intends to be visceral and emotional. It would be a huge representation of the wolf’s head – it could be a mural, projection or installation – accompanied with a voiceover of an extract from The Bloody Chamber. The aim of this is to extract and showcase the latent aspects of the human experience. It is designed to be frightening and visceral.

I kept trying to think about ways to realise these ideas, but unfortunately it was not a productive week.

I suffered from quite severe creative block…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Term, Week 1

Winter Proj

This is my winter project installed in the studio.

The set-up was very simple. It consisted of the poster, which was stuck to the wall using blu-tak, a white wooden plinth, and a speaker which I borrowed from a friend.

The piece was audiovisual because it included both the poster and a soundtrack played through the speaker. The soundtrack was a voice recording of myself reading out the following passage:

“One beast and only one howls in the woods by night.

The wolf is carnivore incarnate and he’s as cunning as he is ferocious; once he’s had a taste of flesh then nothing else will do. 

At night, the eyes of wolves shine like candle flames, yellowish, reddish, but that is because the pupils of their eyes fatten on darkness and catch the light from your lantern to flash it back to you – red for danger; if a wolf’s eyes reflect only moonlight, then they gleam a cold and unnatural green, a mineral, a piercing colour. If the benighted traveller spies those luminous, terrible sequins stitched suddenly on the black thickets, then he knows he must run, if fear has not struck him stock-still.

But those eyes are all you will be able to glimpse of the forest assassins as they cluster invisibly round your smell of meat as you go through the wood unwisely late. They will be like shadows, they will be like wraiths, grey members of a congregation of nightmare; hark! his long, wavering howl . . . an aria of fear made audible.

The wolfsong is the sound of the rending you will suffer, in itself a murdering.”

The passage opens The Company of Wolves, one of the short stories in The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Most of these stories are subverted versions of fairytales, and with her writing she attempts to extract the latent content of the original fairytales. The Company of Wolves is a dark version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” where the base desires of men are materialised as werewolves. The story has overt themes of gender, feminism, and anthropology.

The aim with the piece is not to portray men as bloodthirsty wolves, because that is neither true nor constructive. The aim is to extract the latent nature of the male gaze as a warning and to raise awareness.

The piece was subject to criticism from my studio tutor. They found the idea and intention very interesting and powerful, but in their words the realisation of it was “a bit thin.” A particular criticism was that the sound quality of my recording was poor (it was recorded on my iPhone), and it was pointed out to me that the art department has a recording booth, which would benefit my audio work in the future.

THE NEXT STEP:

For the following week, my studio tutor suggested that I re-visit this idea, but make the realisation of it much more advanced. She suggested the following artists might inform my work: Robert Gober, Sophie Calle, Mariele Neudecker, James Coleman, and Christian Boltanski.

 

Christmas Project

Over Christmas, we were set a fascinating project. everyone in our year was paired up with another student, based on our Autumn Term work. Because our work both involves video, I was paired with Khadija, who’s blog and final piece can be found by clicking here. Her final piece was a slideshow of several images of women, with a male voice reading an extract from Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” a text which introduced to us a concept called ‘the male gaze.’

The male gaze is an idea in feminist philosophy that describes the way women are depicted in visual arts and literature. Women are depicted as objects of pleasure by the male gaze, and it comes in three perspectives: that of the man behind the camera, that of the characters within a film or text, and that of the male spectator or reader.

Khadija’s video is an extremely powerful and well-executed exploration of this idea. It is 1 minute, 1 second long and features images of her female friends in social situations, as well as images of miscellaneous objects. Each image lasts for a few seconds and fades gracefully into the next. The effect of the artwork is that you are presented with images of women whilst being told about the male gaze; how (straight) men “project” their fantasies onto the female figure, and portray them to connote “to-be-looked-at-ness.” This highlights a deep-rooted social issue, and is particularly powerful to me as a male viewer. The final photo in the video is of some brownies, which connotes desire and appetite – perhaps this subtle detail mirrors the male gaze and how it works.

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Shown above is the extract from Mulvey’s text in the film’s soundtrack, accompanied by some analytical notes I took. This was a starting point for my artistic response, and I expanded some of these ideas using a mind map (shown below):

Xmas Proj Ideas

My ideas developed by a simple process of association. I began by deconstructing the artistic elements of Khadija’s piece and seeing what other ideas sprang from each one – sometimes, it feels like mind maps write themselves; they’re like an organism – and I arrived at three different artwork ideas.

One of which tackles an issue I am extremely passionate about: human-driven climate change. This sketch, which would be realised as a sculpture or painting, portrays the earth as a personified being and civilisation as a cancerous growth. It suggests that civilisation will be the downfall of earth.

As you can see from my notes at the bottom, I chose not to follow through with this idea because whilst the message is clear and powerful, it’s a very pessimistic one. I do believe we have the potential to cease climate change, even if we have to limit or reduce our population. Plus, portraying the global warming crisis as a lost cause will not exactly coax people into making an effort to live a green life.

Human as Tumour

Another idea I had was based on Khadija’s use of critical text – whilst she used the critic Laura Mulvey, I had been studying the work of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. His 1981 treatise “Simulacra and Simulation” is absolutely fascinating, and I thought perhaps I could make an artwork similar to Khadija’s using an extract from it.

Again, this could have been an interesting piece, but I realised that by incorporating a text on an entirely different subject than the male gaze, I would be completely missing the point of Khadija’s work. Her piece, at its core, was feminist, and I realised I would much rather respond to that aspect of it than any other.

As the mind-map shows, the idea of the male gaze in Khadija’s piece reminded me of a book I’d read called The Bloody Chamber, a collection of short stories by Angela Carter. The short stories were subverted, feminist versions of fairytales, which extract the latent content of the original stories. A quote from one of the stories came to mind:

“His eyes see only appetite.”

To me, this sentence encapsulates what the male gaze is. Male sexual desire is paralleled with intense hunger in Carter’s stories, which depict men as anthropomorphised beasts, such as wolves.

I considered how the male gaze manifests in modern society, and wanted to incorporate aspects of The Bloody Chamber to highlight its presence and implications. I remembered an image I’d seen from the film “The Seven Year Itch” in which Marilyn Monroe’s character tries to keep her skirt down in the draught from a subway train, while Tom Ewell’s character gazes at her. This is a classic example of a male director (Billy Wilder) projecting male fantasy upon a female character, and portraying her as “to-be-looked-at” – exactly what Laura Mulvey talks about in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”

Wolves often appear in The Bloody Chamber – the quote “his eyes see only appetite” refers to the eyes of The Duke, a character in “Wolf-Alice” (one of the short stories) who is a werewolf. In human form he is feral and chauvinistic, and as a werewolf he becomes violent.

For my response to Khadija’s work, I printed out the image of Monroe and Ewell in The Seven Year Itch, then decided to present it like a movie poster, as a reaction to how it would have been advertised in 1955 when it was released. To reflect the time period I made the paper crumpled and tea-stained. Below the image I wrote out “His eyes see only appetite,” and I drew the head of a wolf over Ewell’s head, with its red eyes staring intently at Monroe.

To further highlight the nature of the male gaze, I recorded myself reading out an extract from The Company of Wolves, where Carter chillingly introduces the wolves and describes them in detail – and played it through a speaker next to my poster.

The resulting artwork looked like this:

Winter Proj