Uncertainty Mission Statement
The term Uncertainty references pungent imagery of predominantly negative emotional or social situations; it leaves an acrid aftertaste of nervousness, indecision and hesitancy. The idea is universal; people from all walks of life struggle with the uncertainty of life, and many have few productive personal cognitive strategies for dealing with it. When uncertain, people make impulsive decisions, pass the buck or simply retreat from the situation.
The purpose of the Uncertainty Narrative Drawing group is to scrutinize and examine uncertainty from various stand points, transforming the potentially harmful or prohibitive into a new avenue for positive creative exploration and self reflection. This exploration will enter various realms, commonly or uncommonly associated with uncertainty. These include fear, avoidance, memory, personal phobias, indecision, change, and the effects of the subconscious mind on the conscious mind as well as many others. The vehicles used to plumb those cognitive depths include both traditional and nontraditional drawing mediums: ink, pen, paper and collage, butcher paper, colorful construction paper cutouts, alternative drawing tools, etc. Students will be introduced to various artists and movements, from Dadaism to American Surrealism to Contemporary comics, to inform their drawing experiments.
The Uncertainty Narrative Drawing Group will strive to explore drawing work as something that crosses boundaries and mediums in manners that are comprehensively narrative, aesthetically satisfying and personally explorative. We will not stray from the weird or the horrifying, but rather through the work, transition the terrible into something positive and reflective.
Faculty: Kevin Christensen, Jonathan Frazin, Fannie Medina
Spiral Workshop Director: Olivia Gude
Gazette Autobiographical Comics
In the Gazette Comics project, students developed newspaper style comic strips on the theme of The Gaze. We began with an image presentation exploring The Gaze and the variety of ways looking is an aspect of our daily lives. A gaze can be desirous, scrutinizing, averted, shaming, etc. The students and the instructors discussed how power relations are often related to who is observed and who is observing. The Uncertainty kids also considered how gazing is manifested in a variety of artworks from different time periods and shared personal stories about seeing and being seen.
Work on the Gazette began with each student creating a storyboard to quickly rough out the various scenes in his/her gazing narrative. At the end of the first day, the students turned in templates and narrative descriptions; the instructors then spent time understanding the intent of the artists and writing notes that affirmed interesting choices and offered suggestions for clarifying stories and making panels more varied and dramatic.
On day two, the students looked at examples of mainstream American comics, independent American comics, and various examples of design strategies for making comics. The students also studies various examples of restricted color usage in comics, both aesthetically and thematically. The students then began creating large scale narratives based on their storyboard templates. Work continued into the third day, and students were encouraged to emphasize layering and dramatic shifts panel composition to create interest within the narratives. Upon completion, the narratives were then formatted into a “Sunday Comics” style sheet and sold at the Spiral show.
Gazette Comics was the culminating project of the Uncertainty: Narrative Drawing group. Other projects beginning with Exquisite Corpse are arranged in chronological order below.
Exquisite Corpse: Visual and Verbal
Poetry must be made by all and not by one.
Comte de Lautréamont
Spiral Workshopʼs first day activities are influenced by the work of the Surrealist International. Led by writer André Breton, the Surrealists invented a variety of games and techniques to tap the unconscious mind, in order to explore new methods of creating meaning.
Among these games was the Exquisite Corpse, a writing exercise so named for one of the first sentences generated by the game: The Exquisite Corpse Shall Drink the New Wine. The game is played by writing an adjective onto a piece of paper, folding the paper over so the word is hidden, passing it to a partner who then writes a noun and passes it to another partner, and so it goes until the game is finished. The sequence of the grammar we use in Spiral Workshop is article, adjective, noun, adverb, verb, article, adjective, noun. Surprisingly, deep meaning is often generated by this random choice of words.
There is a drawing counterpart to the written Exquisite Corpse game, in which one person draws the head of a figure, a second the middle and arms, and the third person renders the legs and feet. To get an idea of how this worked, the Uncertainty students sketched mini corpses on tiny pieces of paper. The students then switched to the poem exercise before launching into a slideshow presentation on the Surrealist movement.
Finally, working on large pieces of brown butcher paper, and using a restricted palette of black, white, two mid-tones (a warm and a cool) chalk pastels, the students created large scale, collaboratively drawn exquisite corpse figures. Through this project, the students learned to work collaboratively, explored the properties of color against a middle tone ground, and experienced how chance and the unconscious can work together to create surprising works of art.
Fear Factors Paper Project
In Fear Factors, the Uncertainty artists explored how fear affected has their lives. In the course of our investigation, we recognized that there are different kinds of fears and that not all fear is necessarily bad.
We began our work with a presentation about color and composition. We looked at the artist and childrenʼs book illustrator, Molly Bang. The presentation showed images from her version of the classic fable Little Red Riding Hood. Although Bang uses very simple shapes and colors, the story is conveyed clearly and dramatically. The class discussed why certain colors, shapes, and compositions worked to create the desired content and mood of the scene. Identifying these factors was foundational to experimenting with creating meaningful compositions with cut, colored paper.
Students filled out worksheets that encouraged them to think about personal experiences of fear. We identified various categories of fear—suspense, shock, horror, creepiness, eeriness, etc. We did not just want to focus on the negative aspects of fear, so the worksheet also included questions that asked about times when fear was beneficial.
After the worksheet, we had a discussion about our fear experiences and times when fear helped us. There was a multitude of answers and attitudes. Students were sometimes surprised to learn that others shared a similar fear. The images were created by cutting directly with scissors or X-acto knife (with no previous pencil drawing) using only three colors of paper—a light, mid-tone, and dark. This encouraged bold, dynamic experimentation with shape and composition.
“It's surprising how much of memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.”
How is memory constructed? Why canʼt I remember something that happened two days ago, but I can remember something that happened two years ago? Why do I associate certain smells with a specific memory? The Memory project sought to examine these questions. To accomplish this, we asked the students to tap into a style of drawing and a sense of self that most people leave behind in childhood.
The day started off with a quick set of bellringer questions such as: What color underwear are you wearing today (without looking)? What did you have for lunch last Tuesday? As we discussed the elusive qualities of memory, the students nostalgically recalled fond and not so fond memories from childhood. Uncertainty instructors then passed out a detailed worksheet that asked the kids to recall specific details about common scenarios—a time you stuck up for somebody, a serious illness, a time you had a pleasant conversation with someone. The students were asked to fill in as many specific details as they could recall for each scenario.
The students were given white newsprint and asked to draw with vine charcoal, one of the stories from their Memory worksheet using their non dominant drawing hands. This helped the kids to a) tap into an alternative style of making and b) focus only on specific elements of their story (because drawing with your non dominant hand is pretty tough, and you’re not going to want to draw a fully detailed scene). The students were allowed to add descriptive text into the drawings, also with their non dominant hand.
The students were then given white and black construction paper, and directed to redraw their Memory scenes a second time, with an emphasis placed on refining the details even more, so that only truly essential narrative elements were present. The students were also asked to refine their descriptive text down to three powerful words. The students then cut out the narrative elements and the words and positioned them on large pieces of black construction paper, playing with composition and contrast. When they were satisfied with their compositions, the students glued their text and narrative elements down onto the black paper, creating a final, powerful reconstruction of memory, devoid of extraneous or confusing sub-elements.
Aliens: First Contact
This project began by exploring the concept of the Society of the Spectacle. The Society of the Spectacle is a term coined by Guy Debord, a leader of the art and political movement known as the Situationist International. This group had many revolutionary political and aesthetic ideas, among the most important and long lasting was that society had become a series of spectacles and that we are all forced to be spectators of life. Some examples of the spectacle is the plethora of television, radio, movies, advertisements, magazines, and televised events that shape our sense of reality. All of these forms of the spectacle are relatively new—being invented in the 20th century.
The Situationists felt that the spectacle degrades human life because nothing is truly authentic anymore; everything is a representation, not the real thing. Each of us must come to terms with what it means to be an individual within these spectacular societies.
The artmaking began with completely covering a large sheet of paper with randomly chosen collage elements, emulating the ubiquity and seeming seamlessness of spectacle.
On the second day of the project, we played a game in which we showed pictures of various Sci Fi aliens from movies and TV shows. The students identified the alien, noted the time of first contact, and gave the reason why this alien had come to earth. We created a large word web to document this information.
After this, using the same magazines from the last week, each youth artist “composed” his/her own alien out of found imagery. The alien was then “dropped into” the Spectacle. Drawing on the complex surface of the collage with oil pastels, the Uncertainty artists concealed and revealed aspects of the found imagery, composing a story of an alien encounter with the Society of the Spectacle. In some of the collages, the youth artist has thoughtfully inserted him/herself as a guide to the alienated alien.
1. The belief in the existence of individual spirits that inhabit natural objects and phenomena.
2. The belief in the existence of spiritual beings that are separable or separate from bodies.
3. The hypothesis holding that an immaterial force animates the universe.
Many people around the world believe that everything around them is infused with life-energy. When behaviors and intentions of humans are assigned to non-human beings it is called animism. Humans have engaged in animism from the beginnings of history. Many theories say that humans assigned humanlike traits to inanimate objects or non-humans to better understand an enigmatic world.
The Animism project was created by altering found images. Borrowing a scene or setting from a magazine, the teens traced the image onto vellum. Then each artist began the process of choosing elements of the scene to animate, to bring to life with human features.
At first the highly ethical Uncertainty artists were concerned that borrowing imagery and tracing was cheating, was not real art. However, learning vocabulary such as appropriation and recontextualization and studying artists such as Sigmar Polke, David Salle, Hans Bellmer, Marlene Dumas, and Kenny Scharf convinced the youth artists that recycling imagery is a legitimate artistic strategy (and fun too).
Each student explored the “non-conscious” world, and considered what type of interactions or reactions he or she might have if the environment suddenly took on human features. The student artists brought an inanimate, unconscious (maybe!) world to life and by doing so they were able to re-create other conceptions of being in the world, an enigmatic environment, full of wonder and possibility.