blogs i have commented on:



beyond the visual

Xiaodong Liu / Themes in Contemporary Art (2022-2023)[SEM1]

Reflective Analysis

‘…consider how the arts and contemporary theory structure “the commons” anew: how the commons becomes both a goal and a trope in post-millennial art and cultural theory.’ (Amy J. Elias) 

As this problem scenario is situated within the shared, collective and communal experience, my groups first discussion was around our own individual encounters with this idea as a physical space. Noticing and talking about shared ‘green’ spaces that are inclusive to all seemed, to me, the most important aspect of the commons. Living in West London (Harlesden) for two years was the first time I sought out spaces where I can walk with family, read, and relax; our main space for this was Harlesden Canalside, a space used by walkers, cyclists and narrow boats, which for two years was my garden. This felt like a luxury as many parks, playgrounds, and small open spaces were purely tarmac and locked a lot of the time due to antisocial behaviour. When visiting family and friends I can visibly see these natural spaces dwindling by housing developments and being fenced off, so I feel it was essential to look into this further. Other spaces we considered were underground bomb shelters in Beijing, art zones that have taken over former military spaces and communal gardens; all having one thing in common, being a former wasteland. The idea that people had this power to transform these spaces into ones that would be of more benefit to a community seemed powerful and we decided to look into this more within Edinburgh. We found a bike park called SKELF nearby to university and used space as a case study to look at how these parks are developed, used, maintained and seen by others. Going there on a cold rainy day meant there was no one using the bike course itself; this at first seemed like a wasted trip but it enabled us to dissect the space visually as we walked and ran around the course but also think about what happens, or could happen, within the park when it is not being ‘used’. As we witnessed, this park is still a way of getting from the city centre to Arthurs Seat so still had the usage of it being an accessible and needed space that is shared for a number of reasons. The thing that struck me most was the housing on one side of the park looked to have no gardens or open space, so this bike park could offer this outdoor space to people, especially young people. An aspect of the park we discussed thoroughly was the graffiti on the course itself and on the surrounding walls. I expected a lot more of this and was surprised by the difference between the tags on the course and the more abstract examples on the wall. This was an interesting talking point as my own encounters with different perspectives on graffiti have largely been negative so this contribution to the park could be seen as antisocial and ‘ruining’ of the space itself, perhaps a threat to the space being open access. This mode of sharing conveys an importance of community and how spaces like this can be transformed for a ‘good’ use and fits in well with the commons outlook of being a ‘goal’. It was interesting to read about the geology of the area and how particular places were created, maybe by accident or to be intended as a sharing space. ‘The Mound itself was formed from cartloads of earth dug from foundations for houses in the New Town, from 1783 onwards…and by 1830, 2 million loads- at no cost to the city’, how certain decisions can imprint on the landscape and change how areas of Edinburgh are used today. In relation to the bike park, we discussed how this amount of cement can impact of the environment below and how a social need to reclaim spaces fits into an environmental debate. From researching artists John Latham and Tony Cragg, I thought about the ‘shared’ necessity of building the city landscape, from the cultivation of materials, turning this into whole materials and this into a house, gallery or skate park that is continually reformed by changing social and community needs. How an un-layering of materials can impart histories and behaviours of former communities who have utilised that space and how the present will always become a fossil of itself. I thought about these ideas in relation to the commons while reading Art in Public: Politics, Economics, and a Democratic Culture; how artists situate themselves within society and can often be, or using artworks to, draw attention to social or political issues, or maybe even expected to? When looking at spaces like World Peace Garden or Holland Park Ecology Centre, it was impossible to come across examples that were void of artist participation, and within the transparent information of these subjects, artists are often their creators, patrons, or ability to be sustained. When looking at the future possibilities for the bike park we discussed the ‘issue’ with the off season and how this could be remedied. This consisted of artist participation in the space to bring a new audience to it and introducing nature enthusiasts to observe the space through scientific means to understand where we live better; all creating a common means of value through repurposing space, introducing participation and sharing this fun resource.

John Latham- 1975-76- undertook a placement within the Scottish Development Office, who invited him to come up with a plan for dealing with ‘bings’, huge heaps of coal waste. their monumental and ‘classical nature’, Latham decided they should be preserved as monuments, which eliminates the need for their costly removal.

an art practice nudging into social practice. what is the importance of art that is political?

Tony Cragg, Stack, 1975

manufactured objects and materials, condensed into a cube-like structure resembling geological layers. relationships between materials and objects and how things come to be, through means of cooperative labour, how these items become ‘fossilised’ and a way of seeing and measuring our impact on the environment.

how can artworks be useful?

Jeremy Deller- A History of the World, 1998

finding links and commonalities between the miners strike and rave scene.

Common to both sides is an inability to regard artists as anything more than isolated individuals who are dependent on either government generosity or free market fortune. Advocates of free artistic expression picture artists as atomistic individuals having equal rights to pursue their own projects. Those who champion authoritative traditional values view contemporary artists as undesirable deviants on the margins of society. Both sides fail to recognize the way in which artists are full-fledged members of social institutions and cultural communities. Recognition of such membership, I suggest, would help remove the impasse into which civil libertarians and religious fundamentalists have brought debates about government funding for the arts.
Zuidervaart, Lambert. Art in Public : Politics, Economics, and a Democratic Culture, Cambridge University Press, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Created from ed on 2022-11-14 20:20:24.

garden next to hampstead overground station

i have been to this garden a number of times as i knew someone living in the area and volunteered nearby at camden arts centre. upon viewing the website and other pages about the garden i hadn’t realised about the music and meditation events that happen there. i thought it was interesting that this space is not just open to the public as a garden but also has an ethos behind it of ‘what would contribute to world peace’. there is a list of patrons above and the garden has largely been created and maintained by volunteers of gardeners, landscapers and designers/artists. as seen in an account on the website by nick evans, volunteer, ‘I soon found there was so much more to it than just plain soil: the glass, concrete, pipes, cans, shoes, clothes, plastic bags, antique crisp packets and the occasional toilet seat I excavated were all indicators of an unloved patch which had suffered decades of neglect. By engaging with the ground in such a simple act as digging, you cannot help but ponder such subjects as human activity, for good or for bad,how it affects your immediate environment, the simple passage of time, and the impermanence of everything…I have enjoyed the many opportunities that working in the garden has provided for me to talk with my neighbours, or people in the community whom otherwise I would never meet, and for the simple pleasure of being able to raise a smile on a stranger’s face. And, to tell you the truth, I am not much concerned about the finer details of the way this garden will look and what the “user experience” might be, as long as the message for Peace comes across loud and clear.’  within a busy area, a place where you can be submerged in trees, plants and artworks seems all the more necessary and required. i think of how lucky i was to be living in the suburbs with a garden when the pandemic hit, planting vegetables and attempting to build my cat her own house, while my friends were in flats near caledonian road, where it felt risky to go outdoors due to too many people walking around, the biggest threat of the time. acknowledging how we fit into the environment felt all the more important; how important it is to have access to parts of the environment for sustenance and well being.

BIKE park edinburgh

as part of our research into edinburgh’s accessible open spaces we visited a bike park called SKELF closest to uni to take pictures and see what its like there. as it was a rainy day there was no one at the site but managed to walk/run around it and record it with photos and videos. Whilst in the space we discussed the following topics together thinking of how we can evaluate this space in terms of our ideas of community, sharing, tools, maintenance.

What already exists for this aspect of the commons (relevant data, facts, literature, practitioners, projects, organisations etc).  This site was created about 4/5 years ago using cement to follow the contours of the already existing small hills to create a space where people can use their bikes to practice the course. this is free and easy to access, also a through route between high street-housing-arthurs seat. after researching SKELF we found multiple facebook pages and sites that contained events that happen in the space, gatherings to show skills, learning possibilities; there is a team behind it of mostly volunteers to make more spaces like this in the area and beyond.

The strengths, limitations and possibilities of what you find. 


  • making most of a small hilly area that people can enjoy
  • free to access and be a part of, just bring a bike
  • thought out rocks around that can be sat on if observing people on the track or waiting to join
  • enough space to walk around if heading into town or arthurs seat
  • signs people have used the space through graffiti and mural work


  • potential for being unsafe or largely unused in winter months when weather is bad
  • to enjoy this space you need to be able to ride a bike well and own one
  • no light around the track or surrounding area so could be unsafe at night
  • although there is space to walk around its very muddy and slippery
  • as it was currently unused when we went, does it get used enough to be a good use of space?


  • space for people to keep fit
  • space for people to work together and share skills
  • on one side there is a large housing area with no gardens so this is an outside space they can enjoy

Discuss and make notes as a group and as an individual on how this relates to De Angelis’ three aspects of the commons 1) a pool of natural/human resources 2) a community of people with reciprocal sharing relations 3) acts of working together towards the reproduction of the community. this is a physical space created for a purpose. it wasn’t difficult to find online and in person. online sites seem very welcoming to people of all ages and stages of skill to learn from one another through events and competitions. after we visited the site, we went to the playcentre opposite to see if there was more information. the staff there were able to give us more insight into when it was created, who uses it, what it was before; seeming optimistic about the space and that it does get visited mostly on weekends and summer months.


the Commons

‘…consider how the arts and contemporary theory structure “the commons” anew: how the commons becomes both a goal and a trope in post-millennial art and cultural theory.’ (Amy J. Elias)

Commoning should have these three elements present in practice or theory: 1) a pool of natural and/or human resources, 2) a community of people with reciprocal and sharing relations, 3) acts of working together towards the reproduction of the community (De Angelis 2017)

PRIMARY THOUGHTS- i began to think about spaces where the commons is possible and shared spaces i have been a part of:

warehouse living– shared living spaces for approx 18 people that includes a shared studio space used by artists, musicians and mostly textile/fashion designers.

whitechapel gallery– shared alleyway space between the gallery (side entrance), Freedom bookshop, various office space and sex workers. artists and collectives are involved to theorise the potential of this space and ensure it is used in a creative and safe space for all.

libraries– free to use and be a part of. a space where you can read, chat, use computer facilities individually or together. librarians must have a social awareness of people who use this space or vulnerable people who may require they’re help.

in class we talked a lot about various spaces in Edinburgh (something we need to explore further), who can use them and the good this brings to people and their community. we discussed specific places that we know of, mostly previously abandoned sites that have been recovered for a community-led purpose e.g. Beijing underground bomb shelters, 798 art zone, world peace garden. we aim to look at how these spaces are used, maintained, relationships to council, threats to this space and the community around them.

learning about Collective gallery, calton hill, being a common good asset made me think of the ‘good’ that comes from having land/monuments/other property within this common good status. is it important to be aware of this? what changes when we know this?

reflective analysis- beyond the visual

“Embodied knowledge, while often denigrated and disavowed within the modern colonial episteme, confirms that Western scientistic validity comprises only one kind of knowing. Manifest through poetics, aesthetics, and other bodily attunements, sensuous knowledges open to alternative modes of relation. […] A sensory, embodied, affective, and imaginative relation to the world opens to a different kind of ethics and politics.” 

To seek other ways of being within the world that are not just reduced to the visual can connect us to places we inhabit, concepts and information more closely. Our initial collective research on Derek Jarman and Feliz Gonzalez-Torres motioned the above scenario into one that is vital for building empathy and connection between the viewer and subject. Watching Blue is to learn about another person’s experiences and situate yourself between the stories and understanding them, whilst being transfixed by a steady blue screen. A static visual accompanying the voice allows a more personal and meditative experience of what is being said or heard, playing with complicity from the viewer as to the importance of ‘viewing’ the piece. The questions around the importance we place on the visual or listening, in relation to Blue, was interesting to consider. If split into two the sound element would carry more weight and content, giving the audience more to connect with and learn from, therefore the visual could be seen as an accompaniment or way of ‘being’ and behaving in a gallery/cinema space (if this is where it is being viewed/listened to). Gonzalez-Torres relies more on the participation value of the work to function as intended and have the desired results of changing form within Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA). The participants role requires taking and taste, becoming closely linked and vital to the artworks success of emotive capacity it involves, both from the actual participation and learning about how this artwork evolved overtime. Higher levels of sensory participation are central to these artworks to allow an audience to access they’re emotive and relating capabilities fully.  

I thought more about the visual’s relationship to sound and how this could conceive more relational attributes to artworks. This is something Lawrence Abu Hamdan utilises within his politically motivated works to situate an audience inside a far-away moment of history or physical building. This is achieved within Eyewitness Theatre, as we ‘experience’ the contours of a Syrian regime prison through both visual and sound elements. Engaging with survivors, Abu Hamdan created a range of sounds using various objects to ascertain what life would have been like within Saydnaya and how, in this mostly dark prison, these sounds would have acted like alarms for a guard approaching, what time of day it is and what was happening around them. Placing this within a large dark space of Turner Contemporary enables the sensory aspect to come through and bring the viewer into the space that Abu Hamdan has been researching and creating; leaving the artwork with a greater sense of what sensory deprivation means and its resulting impact on survivors. This is also true of Tai Shani, who won the Turner Prize the same year in 2019, who creates large scale imaginary landscapes, often originating from history, mythology and literature. D.C Semiramis takes over a whole space with clean-cut lines, hard and soft materials and hanging sculptures, permitting the viewer to walk around this fantastical utopia that is anti-history/anti-future and void of time and space. Adding context to this embellished world is a sound piece of twelve characters, real and mythical, based on Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies. The viewer is able to listen to this material whilst exploring the cities forms and structures, thinking about what element is what and how it would be interacted with by this set of characters. These questions were given some resolution by a series of performances that took place in the installation by the twelve characters. Listening to this mix of music and robotic voices adds much agency to the visual and permits imagination from the viewer as to what is in front of them and what each component can mean.  

The Calton Hill trip was an informative process to learn ways of interacting with objects, people and surroundings. My group set out to summarise our experience on paper through a series of pressings that people would be able to hold and touch during our presentation. As a group we decided upon areas of the hill that we saw as important to document and that could be performed well as part of our idea. We had two parts of our ‘story’ that consisted of the hill itself and the gallery space; one that felt like more of an ‘experience’ and one that felt more like a refuge from that experience. We felt it important to cover much ground as possible to be able to authentically present our experience of Calton Hill; this was in our favour as much of the ground was uneven and full of textures and the monuments and rocks surrounding these had strong patterns and indents, making this a straightforward task. We also recorded some sounds of the trip like leaves blowing around, people talking, traffic and the artwork inside the gallery (Collective), but this felt secondary to the imprints we were making. When presenting this to class, it was weird seeing these prints ‘out of context’ and laying on a table as if it were evidence to be surveyed. We could now see the forms from which they came, as you trace certain lines, they are more in keeping with rock forms and manufactured monuments or grounds, and more wavy delicate lines that showed the more arduous task of pressing on soft sculpture (Katie Schwab). My favourite part of this trip was recording the strong winds on paper that sometimes flew away or ripped between the people holding the paper. This led to thinking about ways of recording weather or natural occurrences and how a perception of this changes when seen, felt or heard within an unnatural space for that occurrence.   

The Calton Hill exercise was a good way to explore the scenario of how sensory experiences can fill a gap of relation with place, people or things. I feel by spending time with the actual formation of a place, feeling and hearing it more deeply, I have come to not only understand but appreciate it more, becoming more connected to the experience the group had, revisiting it and researching its colonial histories. I feel this improved my perception of artists that I have previously researched including their methodologies and how research (especially that of the unseen) can turn into a physical artwork (Takis/Olafur Eliasson). If I walked into a gallery and approached a sound piece on headphones the visual and other sensory aspects are always present like the colour of the wall that is in front of you, the surrounding artworks and people roaming the space; the headphones may feel too tight or loose or you may have to remove a hairband from your hair to wear them. I’m not sure how this kind of impact can be measured but we are told by the small signs what and where the art is and can decide the rest for ourselves.  


as we attempted to record the strong winds on our calton hill trip, i found this the most interesting part of the task, i began to think of other ways this could be done or other processes that could be used to emulate and transfer ‘weather’ to another person. after class today it started to rain heavily, so much so that my window was making noises and the rain started to seep through the wall and drip down a corner of my room. it is a record that there was a storm and that something needs to be fixed.

the idea of something situated in a place it doesn’t belong to reminds me of Olafur Eliasson’s Beauty, 1993. i saw this piece in 2019 at tate modern where an invisible structure allows water to fall like rain with light refracting from it creating a fixed rainbow effect. this is experienced by walking through the installation with its contents attaching to clothes and skin, seeing or not seeing a rainbow from different angles. placing these ‘natural occurrences’ within a gallery space gives the occurrence an added surreal element, allowing us to look at something differently and also how we engage with the material. how much does the visual provide within this piece? when does the visual end or how? from carrying out pressings on calton hill, you can see the markings on the paper and imagine what they could feel like therefore what the actual object, or form it was produced from, feels like.

how could sensory participation within artworks affect and aid the agency and meaning around it e.g. global warming?

Pauline Oliveros

SONOSPHERE- “I was thinking of the core of the earth, an octagonal iron core that spins, and that the sonosphere emanates from the core and the waves— the wave forms enter [the spinning] and radiate from the core all the way up. . . . It interrelates to everything else: the atmosphere, the stratosphere, the magnetosphere, and so forth. . . . From the sonosphere you should be able to map an overview of waves that are waving. The waves are out there and they’re waving.” (Earth Sound Earth Signal : Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts, Douglas Kahn, 2013).

QUANTUM LISTENING- Her corporeal practice is bolstered by a spiritual technofuturism, and she imagines a time when a chip “implanted in a human or a machine” could facilitate a quantum improvisation: “Moment of local sound— moments of moving sound with the ability to detect locations from light years away— defining new interdimensional spatiality. What would a spatial melody sound like— a pitch beginning in Saturn moving to Aldeberon to Sirius to Earth? . . . Space is the place— I hear you Sun Ra!” (Earth Sound Earth Signal : Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts, Douglas Kahn, 2013).

invoking flimsy and ethereal surroundings of weather, electromagnetic fields, princess diana’s funeral, Oliveros surmounts deep listening and sound making to brainwave oscillating, community and theosophy. “I felt like a witch capturing sounds from a nether realm.” the idea of pulling at something unseen or underground and and producing a way these could be experienced by herself and others; a revelation of what is largely unnoticed and unseen and what effect this has once voiced. california state university, 1996, throwing sounds to the moon that would be thrown back- ‘Hearing one’s own voice can be strange, but there is an unlikely intimacy when it returns after having traveled over 750,000 kilometers. And there can be sensuality in the very act of touching the moon.'(pg.201). does a change in relation occur when something is ‘communicated’ with in this way? embracing new technologies that allow relations with far away alien entities and bringing them into a familiar space.


using magnetic fields, created kinetic sculptures to reflect these invisible forces.

within Magnetic Ballet, takis uses magnets to trigger movement continuously, highlighting the unseen forces at play that enable the artworks to function. Electro-Magnetic Musical contains a guitar string and needle hanging from the panel with an amplifier and electro magnet behind it. as these magnets attract and repel the needle strikes the string creating varying humming sounds of differing lengths and volumes.


SUN RA- making music/listening/improvisation as a way of reaching unseen elements and entities. born on saturn and upon abduction he was told to become ‘teacher of humankind’, to recall mythology and otherworldly notions with music/sound/voice.

calton hill

Touching Calton Hill 

for our trip to calton hill, my group and i decided on focusing on the experience of touch. we did this by bringing different types of paper with us and pressing these against areas or forms we deemed important to document and would show up well within the pressing. this had varying results as some imprints acted as near replicas of the object and some had to be worked on and traced with hands and feet to stay in shape. the more we attempted these, the more we found out about methods to bring out the different qualities of paper, to tease out of these forms a more mobile experience of calton hill.

our experience of calton hill was very windy which meant using paper to show our calton hill story was a difficult process. some paper escaped us and some lost their form before we could store it in a plastic folder; it was a group effort ensuring each imprint retained its shape as much as possible and were all handled with the utmost care as if the paper was highly valuable.

one of the best ways of doing this was walking over the paper multiple times which created some exciting marks reflecting the different sized stones beneath our feet that covered much of calton hill.

moving into the gallery space felt like more of a challenge as suddenly the noise of traffic and people had stopped and the space seemed like a refuge from the heavy winds outside; so overall less of an impactful experience than being outside. we carried out more imprints of Katie Schwabs work which was soft sculpture, ribbons and various tiles that people could reconfigure and play around with. we found the results to be much softer too with lines being less contoured and more wavy. i felt because the inside space was an artist’s work that there was less room for experimentation as this was already established as art and felt like more rules were at play here rather than being outside where everything was free and waiting to be used.

overall, i think this was a good way of presenting an experience and through completing this trip, enhanced the experience of calton hill for me and the group. this made us consider certain areas more closely and come into closer and more intimate contact with all the shapes, patterns, and outlines that make up calton hill.