Emotions in Paper Clay

So I am quite excited about how my exploration into portraiture is developing. My latest project is a single self portrait of me expressing a series of emotions, the kind of emotions you might have during a single day. I photographed the head as it progressed through these facial expressions and then animated it into a film. Click on the link above to watch it. It is an attempt to show fleeting human emotions in clay using analogue and digital sources and technologies.

At its core, the work is based on the idea that life is made up of fleeting emotions and micro moments.

How it came about:

At Easter I discovered the work of 18th Century Austrian sculptor, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. In a state of mental breakdown, Messerschmidt sculpted 64, what have become known, as ‘Character Heads’. I was blown away by them and it rather took the wind out of my sails that a portrait sculptor had been exploring this so well two and a half centuries ago. What could I add?

Down the ages, most portraiture has been a kind of PR exercise, often representing powerful people in idealised ways, and with neutral facial expressions. Although this later point is probably based on practical considerations as sitters find it very tiring to hold poses with extreme facial expressions. But how might Messerschmidt portray emotions if he were alive today? And how can clay portraiture show the messy business of being human now?

Ideas Board
My Ideas Board

My ideas board got me to thinking about how feelings are expressed in time. In this fast paced digital world we live in I am interested in ways to slow down the viewer’s gaze, and reconnect them with the nitty gritty of human experience: our emotions and how they ebb and flow. Hence I sculpted my emotional portrait through time, and animated it.

My intention was also to try to reboot the genre and find a way to give the portrait a contemporary twist by bouncing between the digital and analogue realms.

The work that I had done last term with Jonathan Keep using the data from the Royal Academy 3D Scan of my head, led me to understand that there are real benefits from creating hybrid digital and analogue outputs (See my previous post)

I decided to use the 3D scan of my head as the starting point for the sculpture, then work from photographs of me showing various feelings as the basis of the emotional iterations. At certain points I also wanted to include some strange Matrix-like perspectives that the digital world now affords us.

At the start of the project, I planned to decorate the head using low-fired glazes, as I have become committed to working as ecologically as possible in my sculpting work. But as the project progressed, it became clear that really the final head did not need to be fired at all. In fact firing would have run counter to the philosophy of the piece. It is the plasticity of the paper clay that that has allowed me to work and iterate the piece. Turning it into a permanently solid sculpture would not have made sense.

The film was produced using 6 still images morphed on an iPhone app, and then set to a soundscape, that I composed in Garage Band.

So my next steps:

I am thinking about allowing the head to dry out and crumble. Perhaps outside so that the weather can gradually erode it away. Perhaps in a vat of water, so that it can slowly dissolve. Or left to gently decay under this bell jar ….

Jo Pearl Emotions In Time

What do you think my next steps should be with this head?

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