DISSERTATION PDP

The prospect of writing as many words as I have seemed impossible to me when I first started considering this dissertation. I knew it had to be about something I was already incredibly passionate about.

In the first year, after handing in a different essay, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road for the first time and I’ve never been blown away quite so much by a film before. I was genuinely on my edge of my seat the entire film. I found it jaw-dropping. The film is almost non-stop action, but it doesn’t wear you out. There are enough quiet portions of the film to allow you to get to know the characters better, and to give you a breather between intense car chase scenes.

It was around the same time as watching Mad Max that I really started to get an idea of what kind of artwork was inspiring me most in my own subject work. There was a specific visit to the Tate Britain that brought me face to face with a painting by John Martin, ‘The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum’. While it is sadly no longer on display in the Tate, at the time I was completely awe-struck by the scale and the content of the painting. I found the rich reds, browns and yellows of the painting to be captivating and I knew this era of 18th century romantic landscape art had to be an important feature in future work, whether it be in subject or anything else.

Originally I had started off my research for this dissertation by looking at the representation of female characters in Mad Max. While the treatment of women in media is something that is incredibly important to me, and I think is a key issue, it was not something that I felt I could successfully write about. It was after this that I decided to look at the landscape of Mad Max.

The world that the film is set in is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, that has been poisoned and polluted by war. While many other post-apocalyptic films use muted, dark colours to paint the landscape with, Mad Max uses incredibly vibrant, over-saturated colours. For the majority of the film the two main colours used are a rich orange for the sand of the desert, and a vibrant teal for the almost eternally cloudless sky.

This use of bright colour I think is part of what made the landscape of the film appeal so much to me. The main point that sparked my comparison to 19th century romantic landscape paintings was a scene early on in the film. The ‘toxic sandstorm’ is a truly epic natural phenomenon, which Furiosa and the Wives in the War Rig use to attempt to escape Immortan Joe and his war party. As they approach it, the towering structure arks over the vehicles like a tsunami of sand. Inside the sandstorm, we discover that the storm is made up of an unknown, but surely vast, amount of tornados, which then suck several of the pursuit vehicles up in a fire-y explosion. Lightning illuminates the inside of the storm, and it was this combination of content, colour and composition that immediately reminded me of ‘The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum’ by John Martin.

With that initial seed of an idea sewn, I wanted to take that forward and expand upon it. Primarily, I decided to investigate further into what defines the romantic landscape from that era of painting. I quickly found that a common theme was this concept of the ‘sublime’. The sublime, in terms of the romantic landscape at least, is sensation of both terror and awe, wonder and horror. It is about instilling contrasting extremes of emotion in the viewer and I knew that this was going to be the specific point of comparison between my two elements of interest.

I found the theory section of this dissertation incredibly difficult to write. Academic writing has never been my strong point, and I find it incredibly hard to read as well. It takes me a long time to read and understand sentences from academic text. When I finally got that section down, however, the rest came easily. From investigating into how the sublime is created and used in 18th century romantic art, I could then use my knowledge to highlight where it can be seen in Mad Max Fury Road.

I found that there were two main ways in which the sublime is used in 18th century romantic landscape, one of these being the chaotic landscape (paintings such as ‘The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum’, ‘The Great Day of His Wrath’ & ‘The Last Judgement’ by John Martin were key in this.) The other was this idea of ‘bleak landscape’. I looked at many of Turners later works for this as he uses a lot less detail towards the end of his painting career. While his paintings were less defined, it did not stop them from creating the sublime. Edmund Burke, who I speak about a great deal in the essay, speaks about ‘uncertainty and confusion’ as being ‘grander passions’, then clarity.

This knowledge then can be applied to the vast, empty scenes in Mad Max, where we see how truly desolate the landscape has become. Knowing that there is no protection, that the characters are entirely vulnerable in these scenes works into this notion of uncertainty. The viewer is uncertain of the character’s safety, and it allows the viewer these feelings of suspense and fear, as well as excitement as the film continues. This ability to create a visceral feeling in the viewer, without them actually having to come into contact with any danger is key to creating the sublime, and it is this which I aimed to investigate in my work.

Constellation Reflection

Term One

In the first term we had a series of 5 hour lectures, which personally I feel was a bit much for a single lecture. The most important part of the first term for me was the trip to London. We visited a few different contemporary exhibitions and galleries, though the most exciting was Ai WeiWei’s exhibition in the Royal Academy of Art. My personal favourite were these pots, titled ‘Coloured Vases’. I enjoyed looking at these the most because of my own love of ceramics, and colour. The way he combines both of these works well, the smooth, clean-cut finish of the pots combined with the dripping bright colour makes an enticing contrast. 

The most influential of his pieces was ‘S.A.C.R.E.D.’. He created 6 miniature rooms, or dioramas, which depict scenes from his time in a Chinese prison. The reason this is influential to me is that I ended up using it as inspiration for a later project in my Subject. I was doing an editorial project based on an article about a guy who gets invited to a work reunion, and its not intended to be terribly serious, but in the article the author talks about how it is a classic part of the anxiety dream to turn up to an event such as this naked. For one part of the project I made a miniature room in which a circle of clay figures surround another figure in the centre. All the figures are naked, but the attention of the viewer is meant to be focused on the centre one, to suggest that even though it might feel like you are the only one with that anxiety, it is in fact quite a common occurrence. 

Term Two/Three

I’ve pretty much stopped getting stressed out about things but this term, with the hand in of the dissertation made me feel incredibly stressed. Writing does not come easily to me, and I’ve always avoided essay based subjects like the plague in the past because of this. Obviously this course isn’t essay based, but I find it incredibly difficult to stop thinking with my usual creative mind set and have to start thinking about things from an academic writing perspective.

The idea for my dissertation started from the film Mad Max: Fury Road, which came out around this time last year. I was absolutely blown away when I first saw it, and proceeded to see it 5 times while it was still in the cinema, and another couple times since then. What really struck me about it was  the way in which its female characters are designed. They defy so many classic female character tropes from movies. For example in the scene where we first see the Immortan Joe’s wives, they are washing themselves with water. The wives themselves are barely wearing anything through out the whole film and somehow this isn’t sexualised at all.

Typically, women in this kind of scene are subject to the ‘male gaze’, which is something that Laura Mulvey talks about in her book ‘Visual and other pleasures’. This kind of male gaze can be seen in transformers, where the love interest of the first film is bending over the engine of a car and the camera pans up her body, and we see the hero of the film do the same thing. However in Mad Max, we never see anything like this. 

I chose the option for my dissertation of creating an artefact and then writing the 6000 word analytical text to accompany it. Originally I had been planning to do the 10,000 word theoretical text, but after trying to come up with ideas for it, I just didn’t feel at all motivated by the prospect. Because I don’t enjoy writing academically, I decided it would be much more effective for me to use my creative skills to the best of my ability for my dissertation. My plan is to make 5 movie posters that are inspired by existing movie posters that have women on them that are overly sexualised and objectified. James Bond movie posters are a good example of this, especially the older ones. 

This poster is a good way to illustrate what I’m talking about. All the women in this poster have much more skin on show then Bond, especially the second one in from Bond, who is only slightly covered up by a towel. She is also facing away, with her back to the audience, and we can only see a tiny amount of her face, causing the audience to focus more on her body then anything else. Bond himself is wearing a very suggestive expression on his face, which combined with his smoking gun results in a very sexual connotation. 

One of the key things I have been investigating in my dissertation proposal was the roles that women are given in films. I got a lot of my key concepts and theories from Rikke Schubart’s ‘Super Bitches and Action Babes’. In her book she talks about what she considers to be the five archetypes of female characters. She describes them as The Amazon, The Daughter, The Mother, The Rape-Avenger and the Dominatrix. She also gave me the term ‘male genre’ which became a very important part of my background research. 

After writing my proposal I’m feeling a lot more motivated about the whole idea of creating and writing my dissertation then I was before. Before I started I was absolutely dreading having the write anything to do with this, but now I have got to the point where I’m really excited to be able to express my thoughts and opinions about my chosen subject matter. I’m going to use the ‘making an artefact’ section of my dissertation to really expand my life drawing skills. I feel as though I am relatively competent as it is, but I need to practise a lot more when it comes to drawing people in more dynamic poses, which they often are in movie posters. I am also going to use it as a chance to create more finished, professional looking outcomes, which is something I struggle with doing in my subject. 

First Year Reflection

In the weeks leading up to the beginning of the first term, I got really stressed out whenever I thought about going to university. Not because of the course, mostly I was really excited at the thought of being in a whole new environment to create things in. It was just the idea of moving away from home and having to look after myself. In my head, I knew it wouldn’t actually be as bad as I was imagining it to be, but it was hard to make myself think reasonably about the whole situation. In reality, moving to Cardiff and living away from my family really wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined it out to be. Despite this though, I’d still kind of rather be at home, only because I miss my pets, and my family. I feel like I’ve been able to adapt a lot better than I thought I would.   

Constellation is the main part of the course that I’ve struggled with. I’ve found the lectures to be really interesting, and some of them were quite helpful, especially in the first term. It is the essay writing part that I find really difficult. Doing an art based subject means that I have never had to do as much writing as most other subjects. I don’t have any problem with writing, for example I can easily write about my own work if I have to evaluate it. I find writing easy when it is my own opinions, but once I have to do proper academic writing, where I have to find references for everything, that is when it gets really difficult for me. Having a lecture on how to reference properly in the first term really helped. I have never had to write an essay that needed references in it before, so it was good having that opportunity to learn about it, so that I could apply it to my own work.

I have no problem asking for help now though. I felt like that because I was now at university, these were things I should be able to deal with, but whereas I would have tried to struggle through difficult tasks by myself in the past, I am now more confident about asking for assistance. Once I have had help with something, I’m then able to help someone else who is having the same problem that I had.

I did a foundation course before I started university, and I feel like that helped a lot, particularly with my time management and with the amount of work I was able to create, in a short period of time. I haven’t had a problem with handing work in on time since I started this course, both with constellation and subject/field. It is satisfying being able to apply these skills to the work I’m doing now.

Most of the feedback I’ve got from project work has been very positive. Most of the time I never know what to expect, because this is a new platform for working in, so I never expected the response to be good or bad. The only time I got something besides a positive response was during field, when I had to create work as part of a group. I’ve never been good at working with other people, and having to work in a group with people I’d never met before was not good. I’m quite disappointed in what I helped produce. It was very frustrating working in a group of people from different disciplines, who all have very different styles. We ended up working on something that we all tolerated at best, but it meant that no one felt particularly motivated to create anything, and we didn’t get much work done.

This is something that I’m going to be very aware of in the future. When it came to writing the essay at the end of this first year for constellation, I made sure to pick a topic that I was very interested in, so that I would stay motivated while I was working on it, and was actually enthusiastic about learning more about the topic. I find it quite hard to stay motivated for something if I stay working on the same thing for too long, so I’ve started giving myself mini deadlines within a project to keep myself focused.

I haven’t been given a grade for anything I’ve done so far this year, in all aspects of the course, so it is hard to determine how well I’m actually doing. I find a lot of the time when I’m having a crit for a project in subject/field, that the response I get for my work will depend on the tutor I have for the critique. I’ve noticed this in the past as well, and it is because art is such a subjective thing, that their responses can often be because of their own preferences. It can be difficult to take what they say and try and work out how much of what they say is their own opinion of the work I do, and how much of what they say is something that will actually affect how well I do in the course.

I’ve really enjoyed constellation in the second term, once I’d had the chance to choose my own option.  It was a subject that I vaguely knew some things about, but I didn’t know a lot of what was talked about in the lectures each week, so I’ve learnt a lot from this term. ‘After Modernism’ also gave me insight to site specific art, which I realised during the lecture was actually my favourite type of art. This is what I decided to write my essay on in the end, because it is something I felt really compelled to learn more about, and something that I felt like I could confidently write about.

I definitely still struggled through actually writing the essay, as I am still trying to work out how to reference properly but I find that with each experience of academic writing I have to do, I feel more confident about putting my knowledge into practise.

Constellation – Reflecting on the first term

I made the mistake of not writing up what I’ve taken from all the constellation lectures as I went along in the first term, and I regret it. This is definitely something I plan to work on during next term.

I took in a lot of information from the first term, and while I didn’t exactly enjoy every single lecture I went to, most of them were helpful in at least some ways. I really liked Cath Davies’ lecture, and Jon Clarkson’s. I thought both of their lectures were really interesting, helpful and actually made sense which was really great.

I enjoyed Cath’s lecture because she talked a lot about things like sexism and the way women are portrayed in media, (in the case of her lecture; in James Bond movie posters) which is something I’m really interested in. It was really interesting to discuss these kind of topics with other people. Jon’s I found really helpful, like the way he explained stuff in his lecture was really coherent and just generally was really easy to understand.

There were some study skills sessions that didn’t make that much sense but generally I managed to get at least a few things from all of them. Definitely one of the most useful things I got from the study skills session was how to do proper referencing, and I still struggle with it a bit, but before I had absolutely no idea where to even start with referencing things for an essay.