[EDITOR’S NOTE: In the next instalment of our series on artists and their creative processes, Liz Crichton gives a poignant, affecting account of the experiences and questions that led her to her final piece for the In/break exhibition. Revealing how artmaking can become a cathartic, creative response to grief, she describes using a kite to embody the enduring spiritual connection she felt with a friend who had died. Through her artistic ingenuity, Liz found a way to ‘manifest the ineffable’.]
The Burning Bush
Confronted by the exhibition theme, I knew this piece would be difficult. How could I make manifest the ineffable? Was it a challenge I wanted to attempt?
I had experienced something of the spirit of God for myself Try as I might I could not deny that. I had already accepted as my calling a commission to invite others into that space where, if only briefly, the unimaginable seems possible.
Could I create something that makes the invisible visible? The movement of air, not obvious in itself, produces indirectly measurable effects: ripples in the water, reeds bending in the wind, an umbrella turning inside out, a boat sailing over the horizon… no, wait, I know what I’ll make: a kite. It can fly and fall and fly higher again, it might even break free – or break up!
Stop. I have an objection and need to be excused this task. What will be shown is not the artwork itself, but a digital rendition of the artwork. Would that then become the artwork, or simply be a documentation or representation of the original work? I have always championed direct experience of original work and fought against the viewing of reproductions as if they were the real thing. This goes against everything I have stood for.
Doubts creep in. What is art? What makes one thing art and another not art? Is it to do with intention, ideas, perception, materiality, functionality (or lack of it), aesthetics, provocation, emotional response? Or is art simply a means of self-expression? The nineteenth century novelist Tolstoy writes that: ‘Art is that human activity which exists in one man’s consciously conveying to others, by certain external signs, the feelings he has experienced, and in others being infected by those feelings and also experiencing them’. The key word here is experience; something of the artist’s intentions, emotions, spirit and soul needs to both consciously and unconsciously manifest itself in the artwork, to then be experienced by others. Viewing online, what you are seeing is not the work, but something that points to the work. Perhaps, you will experience something that relates to the original work, but what you experience is a different work: one that is limited and filtered, digitized and removed from the original context.
The Artists Placement Group (APG) identified the context as being half the work. Making the context of the work as important as the work itself. How can one make a work that could have as its context the utility of the kitchen, the casualness of the living room, or the intimacy of the bedroom? APG sought to release art from the confines of material objects viewed in an art gallery, finding opportunities instead for artworks to be part of daily life, impacting on social relationships and bringing about cultural transformation. Is this online exhibition a gift, an opportunity like none before it?
I threw down my staff
Embrace the digital as a medium. Video is designed to be viewed on a screen. I could edit, play with time and space, create something more than would be physically possible. Use the time basis of the medium to control how the work unfolds and is presented.
Then my friend died, suddenly, unexpectedly.
What is the point of art?
I reached deep inside the layers of myself, nothing… Then, as I fumbled around in the darkness, I found my friend’s nightdress. Together we could do this, embrace the uncertainty, choose freedom, believe…
The work started to take shape. Working intuitively, the process of making was itself cathartic, I liked what was emerging. The aesthetics were good, too late now to worry about the principals of aerodynamics. I was beginning to feel as if I could fly.
The work was part of me, and I part of the work. Could I let it go?
Would the snow ever melt? Would the kite be immediately destroyed?
Waiting… learning to live with the questions, is part of the process.
The Cleft in the Rock
This could be the only chance I have. I placed the Kite on the ground. It lay there as if unsure what to do. Then it started to flutter, as if it had taken its first breath. It flapped and twisted and tumbled, it flew and it fell.
As I tugged at the string connecting me to the kite, the kite responded. Then, as I held tightly onto the string, the kite invited me to explore deeper, my soul’s inner journey became outwardly visible as our relationship was animated
How could I have ever doubted that together we could make this journey?
There was a rainbow after all.
 Tolstoy, Leo. What is Art, translated by Revear, Richard and Larissa Volokhonsky, Penguin Books, London, 1995, xviii
Artist Placement Group, statement of methodology in Structure in Events, 1972, https://i2.wp.com/we-make-money-not-art.com/wow/0iiitumcontexto1_500.jpg?w=940