Visual Intelligences Research Project

Exhibitions : Inspiration To Order : Mary Maclean

silver gelatin photograph
96cm x 109cm

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Considering If...Then...Else
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Considering If...Then...Else... leaflet
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Mary Maclean (born 1962) gained a first class honours degree at Glasgow School of Art and went on to postgraduate study at the Rijksacademy Amsterdam. She then completed an MA at the Royal College of Art, London and was awarded the Visiting Fellowship in Painting at Winchester School of Art.  She has held a number of visiting lecturing posts including at Glasgow School of Art, Nottingham Trent University and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Painting, Oxford. She is currently Associate Lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Reading. She has received several awards including the John Minton Award for travel, the Pollock- Krasner Foundation award and the Abbey Award in Painting at the British School at Rome. She has received Research Awards for individual projects from the Arts Council of England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and from the Faculty of Design at Kingston University and the School of Art and Design at Coventry University.  Solo shows include Somewhere…fast, Belfast Exposed, Belfast, the Jerwood Artists Platform, Jerwood Space, London, Foiled, Collins gallery Glasgow, Still Moves at East 73rd gallery London and Almost Nothing at Neutral Space Brighton. She has taken part in several group shows including Frenzy at the Metropole gallery Folkestone, Residual Property at Portfolio, Edinburgh, Behind Closed Doors, seven Worcester terrace, Bath and I’m Wary, a collaboration with Sallyl Morfill at Five Years gallery London. She was co curator with Beth Harland of No particular place to go at Apt gallery London.

Artist's statement on process

In a recent series of photographic works titled Almost Nothing I set out to examine the experience of place.  I developed my interest in a certain kind of institutional space. These were spaces that I visited in the normal course of events, a public foyer, a doctor’s waiting room, a library. Full of small events of anticipation, waiting, apprehension, the impression of a space which is influenced by its visitors is given weight by the shifting traces of a history visible in the fabric of the structure –  a slightly stained carpet, a scratched wall.  I intend these photographic works to be linked to the functions of memory and to relate to an act of recognition, so returning to the viewer, via an unexpected route, a space that is known and understood.  As part of the development of the ideas and the activity of making the work I have responded to parallel considerations on the question of memory in the writings of Borges, Pessoa, Calvino and Sebald. These have offered important points of orientation for reflection on my practice.

After an initial visit of visual note taking using a 35mm camera I make a further visit to the place with a medium format camera and tripod. I am conscious of the dissimilarity between the formality of the camera’s positioning that is poised and limits the intake of information and the processes of natural perception. The procedure of observing through photography, of making an insertion into a space, seems to parallel the act of remembering, dependent in turn on selection and oblivion. 
The finished photographic works are large scale. I work directly onto aluminium, allowing the grey reflection of the metal to form an integral part of the work. The emulsion is coated onto the aluminium in successive layers. Brushing on the silver gelatin emulsion gives a dense tactility to the surface, suggesting a sensuousness that coincides strangely with the coldness of the metal. The gelatin surface holds a register of slight flaws, emphasising the uniqueness of the work. I am interested in the resulting minimal fluctuation that introduces uncertainty to the image. The tonal register is also altered: a more ghostly image is achieved whose qualities cannot be exclusively associated with the photographic.

An important aspect of my process is the way in which the viewer can be implied within the space of the work, introducing a fluidity of border between subject and the object viewed. The dull reflectivity of the surface of the aluminium takes in ambient light and gives back a hint of the presence of the viewer.

At a certain stage the work is caught in its own structure: it cannot incorporate new twists and turns. After the slowness of days of preparation, aiming to steer the final image, unhindered to a desired and planned outcome, there is a surprising shock at the freshness and waywardness of its eventual appearance. No amount of planning seems to legislate for the nuanced pitch of its final presence.