Deborah Harty on making work for the Almshouse Tempera Project

I entered into the Almshouse Tempera Project with an open mind. To be honest neither the study of architecture or the use of painting have formed part of my practice in the past few years, so ultimately this is what made inclusion in the project seem like such a good opportunity: to rethink some of my ideas and refresh my approach to my practice. Although I didn’t have an idea of how I may progress I suspected that I would be interested in the internal environment and its affect, rather than the architecture per se. As Atsu has also intimated, I was thrown by not being able to go inside the houses and experience the internal environment. My work generally focuses on capturing phenomenological experience through the marks created on the surface when drawing; a trace of the experience as it appears to consciousness. I adopt the position of Velmans’ ‘reflexive monism’, which identifies that;

The “contents of consciousness” encompass all that we are conscious of, aware of, or experience. These include not only experiences that we commonly associate with ourselves, such as thoughts, feelings, images, dreams, body experiences and so on, but also the experienced three-dimensional world (the phenomenal world) beyond the body surface (Velmans, M. 1996, Defining Consciousness).

From this respect, my drawings are not generally figurative, as they incorporate marks and traces of both the psychological and physiological experience.

When we visited the Almshouses in February, the initial sense of panic over not being able to enter the Almshouses gave way to fascination in the potential spaces glimpsed through the partially open doors, and disappearing staircases: spaces of transition and threshold. Returning from the visits to consider where I may begin, I started to think about the liminal space that I often feel I occupy during the activity of drawing: an inbetween space, a threshold between differing states of consciousness fluctuating between conscious awareness of self and absorption in the process to a sense of loss of self. The awareness of this connection prompted me to follow the idea of thresholds within the Almshouse Tempera Project, in a sense it gave me a way in.

The doors or staircases of the Almshouses related to the sense of threshold: not only entering a differing physical space but also a psychological one, in the sense of the change of circumstances often occurring within the residents’ life as they move to the Almshouses. With this in mind, I began to draw. I started literally, which is often my default when I am unsure what to do: working not from observation but allowing the work to appear on the page in front of me. This is one thing that is challenging with the tempera as it has a less immediate, slow deliberation than drawing with charcoal; at least it appears so at present.

I began to draw doors, partially open. These are imagined spaces and I am more interested in creating the sense of thresholds and liminal spaces than I am in replicating particular architectural motifs. I anticipate that I will move away from this way of working, however, it is one space before I step over the threshold to the next.

Deborah Harty

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