Emma Brassington

Emmajanebrassington at gmail dot com

07719222895

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Reflection on Bali Residential September 2017- May 2018

Event description:
    During a 10 month residency in Bali I immersed myself in Balinese language and culture. I had a particular focus of interest in the art, craft and use of the Balinese masks. Whilst many masks are now produced as souvenir for tourists, the Balinese also take great care in crafting the traditional  mask as a sacred object to use in temple ceremonies and performance. During my stay, I learned to carve with a Mask Master to gain insight about religious and cultural significance of the Balinese mask. With my experiences, I found that the mask served as a useful tool for investigation and a starting point of reference for an ongoing research practice.

As well as gaining an invaluable skill and knowledge of a material my experience lead me to observe 3 interesting phenomenon concerning the nature of an object, repetition in ritual and the quotidian, and lastly the per formative nature of identity.
These three phenomena lead me to question the spectacular nature of everyday movements and objects.

Shortcomings: My experience in Bali afforded me with an invaluable experience where I learned a skill in carving. However, on reflection I realise that I prioritised learning the craft of carving rather than understanding the mask as a whole. Even though I took the time to read relevant literature and talk to Mask performers, and mask makers I lost a huge experiential opportunity to learn the movements of the danse. Whilst interviewing Noupour- a Western trained dancer specialising in Balinese Mask, I started to recognise that the mask with its dance was more than just a performance. Through traditional training, you learn to register subtle movement and feelings that can be tuned and channeled. Perhaps I would have learned more if I allowed myself more time to the performative aspect of the balinese mask especially If I then brought this element into my practice now.
As an artist, I need to understand how I will be using the mask as I have little understanding of how t 'feels' to use the mask in a traditional balinese sense. I will not use the mask to try to recreate 'dancing' in the way the balinese did.
However, I did learn of the importance of movement, stillness, trust and improvisation through movement lab.

The experience of living in Balinese culture has a great influence on my practice as I am driven to consider:
Questions raised;

    •    how can I use animism as a framework to guide my practice?
    •    Objecthood: the nature of an object: agency, narrative and cultural/personal significance of an object.
    •    Materiality: How do objects live, who controls who- object or human? Intreprelationship- humans do not have control over materials- we work with them
    •    How can an animist framework of objects contribute to my painting practice? In relation to archives?
    •    The spectacle: visual stimulation bright lights, sounds and movement
    •    How to explore performativity, and identity.
    •    Performativity, identity
    •    The mask as a tool for exploring identity
    •    the mask as a tool to explore movement
    •    the mask as a tool to explore objecthood

I want to return to these investigation and incorporate them into my painting practice. How?
Focus forums on the masks, photo shoots, I feel these investigations at the moment may be quite superficial...


The object: The Balinese are animist; this is to say that culturally they give significance to the agency and lifeforce of nature, objects and the world around them.
Health and wellbeing- everything has a value- how can I develop a workshop where you transfer the message that everything has value, (Self and Self esteem) the use and example of objects
The object: How narrative changes the status of an object- critical analysis:

The object is greater than itself:The mask object has come into being through its own life-force as well as the intention of the mask maker and the mastery of the performer.

This animistic perspective on objects instructs me inspect objects and props within a work as adding entirely to the narrative and interpretation of a piece of work. Each value must be equally weighted.


 
To me these masks demonstrated:
transformation/suspension of the self
Their use as a tool/prop in ceremony

spectacal of the cereomony, aesthetics of the everyday
Romantisisng the other (orientalism)
I start to question the aesthetics and the ritualistic nature of the everyday- how can we understand ritual as sacred phenomona?
What can masks depict in our society? Different personas, different personalities,
How can I use/understand masks in my practice?
Who else uses masks in their practice? Joan Jonas, Paula Rego, James Engor, Cohen, Moore,


 During my stay I became particularly interested in the use of sacred objects  aesthetics during the temple ceremonies. During the temple ceremonies highly trained dancers move in sequence in a masked dance. To the tourist's eye, these dances are movement… but to someone in training- experienced art as a highly tuned craft that gets woven into the fabrics of the every day. Noupours talk

Art is in the everday- sacred but daily

Leather carving- a technique to make Wayang Kulit- Indonessian shadow puppets and decorative art such as crowns and costume.

Tradition/vs modernity
Bali has rich traditional art techniques: Painting, mask making, sculpture.
Above examples of painting:

Wood Carving and sculpture: photos

As well as traditional techniques, I met numerous artist that sought to traverse outside of the traditional realm proclaiming themselves to belong to an international community of contemporary artists. Artists like:…
These artists sought to make work responding to political structures existing now.

Artist lead program:
Meeting the residency artists: How to RESPOND to an environment- Materials of space and place.
Maria- sound art and stone
Max relief prints and copper



The Mask:
During 5 months I worked closely with an old Master of the Mask: performer and maker. The Balinese use Topeng as part of religious practice: a performer uses a mask to enact sacred ritual that tell the stories from the Mahrabrata. Each mask defines particular characters which are known to the Balinese audiences.

The mask itself has a great tradition: the Mask is carved from solid Pule wood. The Pule tree has a sacred character as it grows in a temple or cementry and it has a 'Taksu'- Taksu can be simply defined as the 'spirit' although its really meaning plays a much more complex role highlighting the  moment where the agency of the performer surrenders completely to the sacred moment when the energies of the mask, the maker and the performer combines so that God himself appears.

Learning to carve:
Description: Over the process of the month I bought tools and worked with the wood to hand carve masks. Learning from another culture: no planning and no hesitation- allowing the wood to 'take over'
new way of working. In total making 20 masks
Feelings: frustration as I was not allowed to plan. Satisfaction of being able to carve. Frustration for mask maker to to take over
Letting go of being a 'master'. I am not a master carver but what has it taught me?
Skills I have learned and how can I incorporate this into my practice? I am starting to learn the 'grain of the wood' how to carve.

Analysis:
a. description. Balinese style mask measuring: made out of Pule wood, painted with acrylic. The work was created in Bali with help of Master. The Topeng mask is 3-d in form with the appearance of symmetry. The masks range from the more life like and uncanny to more grotesque monstrous. Some have eye wholes that allow the expression of the performer to express through the eyes. Other don't and the expression come from the mask. The masks can be full or half faced masks.
Technical qualities of the mask: The  basic shape is chopped with an axe and the finer detail of the masks are carved with a range of different sized chisels and a tamarind wood hammer.  Each mask varies in character which is finished with acrylic paint on top of a base emulsion.

Integral part of the learning experience was that each piece goes unplanned- this allows the Taksu of the wood to come out. Transferring my wood working skills, I will not continue the 'non' planning. Planning helps to guide the artist and it is a mark of a master to make without a plan. He has a plan in his head.
Despite not having a plan, there are simple uniformities when making a mask: nose, mouth eyebrows. The characters also have relationships. Note the video…
d. judgement:
success: the form of the masks are finished to a high quality. They are symetrical and detailed. Additionally, they are sanded and painted well: sanded to a smooth finish. Painting- mask dependent. However, where the work fails to realise itself are that they are incomplete. They are outside of their ritualistic context. The characters that are Balinese lose substance when they are moved to the UK.  
A point on originality: whilst I 'designed' and carved my masks I was heavily influenced by my teacher. The masks are largely based on Balinese masks which is a result of my setting rather than a result from my own decision making process,  with exception of Mask: A)- This mask is more original as I carved it whilst looking around my friends as a sculptural guide. I find this mask is more successful.  
Excersise: comparison of the masks: e.g neutral, Balinese and mine…
But still lacks completeness:

 A mask is to be worn: rather than just exist as an object? What questions does this raise about the status of an object within the context of fine art?
How is a mask used by professional artists? Joan Jonas and

Other uses of the Mask:
How can the mask be used in a professional setting?
 

Skills gained: carving, realising in 3.d form, understanding materials,
Social analysis, philosophy of tutor, use of materials

long term implications?
The mask as an object stands weak. I need to to develop it as a performance prop, metephore/subject or explore further the materials it is made from...