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Tuesday 26 May 2020

Reflective writting about how I came to creating this piece: Hard Core Vibes

 Hard Core Vibes 2020
117cmx 150cm

I've recently had a change of life, I quit my previous career and moved from Manchester to Worcester with my partner who got a kickass promotion.

It gave me time think about what I want to happen to me next.  I decided I want to focus more on working towards becoming a self-sustaining artist.

 I managed to secure some part time work so that I could rekindle my practice and dedicate more time to honing my skills. 

I felt really good about that change but its taken me a lot of time to feel like I can make that statement, let alone turn it into a reality!

 I'm hoping this entry will help me learn from what I did as I made this piece and I hope it will contribute towards me articulating my thoughts about a potential series of future work. 
I needed this entry as a moment to collect my thoughts before I considering  progressing onto another large scale image.

Reflections on the themes

When I started thinking about this piece I was generally exploring how performative gender is and the physicality of "Maleness". Or at least that is where this project idea started. I ended up somewhere different and this post will help me reflect on how I got to this piece. 

Looking back at what I did and why.

Firstly I recognise that I have been exploring the "Male form" from a Western, male, white, cis and gay lens which became quickly focused at looking at presentations of the male gaze on instagram.

 I'm not trying to define or break a universal understanding of "Maleness" or the "Male form". At the start of the project I was exploring presentations of men through visual imagery. The male figure is a historic source of inspiration and I wanted to look at representations of the male figure in a contemporary context.

This has been a starting point and it quickly snowballed and fell down an Instagram rabbit hole. 

 Physical Male identity and maleness in general, is in flux. I used Instagram as a way of looking out how men present themselves.

I find the app and platform fascinating. It provides the freedom to curated and display an idealised version of the self. 

It offers a chance to continuously document our every move and thought, or present and perform a version of ourselves by our own manufactured design.

We each have creative control about what we want to present on our accounts to a degree if you wanted, as well you can keep your identity anonymous.

It gives us all an opportunity to voice and establish ourselves in a way we want to be seen.

 I see a lot of images about men in fashion and sport. Lots of images of men redefining themselves through their body image. There is a lot more conversation happening about men aiming to gain weight in the right places and cut back towards defined rippling abs etc. 

The book the The Adonis Complex, Harrison G. Pope describes what happens when male behavioural expectations meet society's increasing fixation on the male body.
    Real men aren't supposed to whine about their looks; they're not even supposed to worry about such things. And so this "feeling and talking taboo" adds insult to injury: to a degree unprecedented in history, men are being made to feel more and more inadequate about how they look" while simultaneously being prohibited from talking about it or even admitting it to themselves (Pope 5)
There is more discussion occurring which acknowledges their is an impact on men's mental health. The book acknowledge that social media is impacting perceptions of self value and that media creates a constant comparison toward goals which can also become unattainable because a depleted sense of self worth. 

 This article also struck me because a personal trainer acknowledged the constant comparisons which guys make from what they see on social media and where they want to take their bodies.

Phil Williams, a personal trainer at Powerhouse Gym, has witnessed those issues with his clients. When he asks a new male client what they’re hoping to gain from personal training, Williams said he usually gets a picture of some guy on social media.
“Every time. It never stops,” Williams said. “They always pull out their phone.”

It made me think about how we are constantly look towards each other for reassurance of our identity. We refer to external parallels that we can correlate it something apart of our identity. We draw from other people similar to ourselves and our aspirations to help us work toward idealised versions of ourselves. 

Body building is inherently competitive, and a negative cycle can develop as a person's body is physically at a limit and it doesn't match their intended desire. The person can become confronted with something is tortuously unobtainable. I found this interest paper by Dr. Christian Edwards titled 
Searching for Masculine Capital: Experiences Leading to High Drive for Muscularity in Men.
 The paper provides a range of interviews with men who train and explored their motives as qualitative research. The paper demonstrated how desire for a muscle bound body has been repeatedly written about.

Festinger (1954) suggested that an individual’s views are influenced by the consensus of the group to which they be long (e.g., men focused on manly dispositions from significant others to which they did not conform). When social messages reinforce these dispositions they are often internalised by individuals (i.e., become their habitus). The men’ s stories highlight how their comparisons led them to internalise what they were not (e.g., ‘I am not powerful’, ‘ I am not smart’, ‘ I am not cool’, ‘ I am not academic’), thereby identifying a gap between themselves and dominant standards of masculinity.

The paper concludes a model for understanding some motives:

Further understanding of the men’ s experiences of the DFM [Drive For Muscle] may assist researchers and practitioners to identify strategies to help men who are negatively affected by their extreme obsession with muscle. (p29)
The article's model indicates how childhood and adolescent experiences can result in lack of masculine capital leading to Identity confusion and Negative self-schemata.

Men’s narratives support this interplay, specifically, during childhood and adolescence men were exposed to a gender specific habitus, and through comparison and reinforcement, in a range of fields, these norms formed the men’ s unconscious schemata. Against these hegemonic dispositions men evaluated their own masculine capital, resulting in identity confusion and negative self-schemata in adolescence. (p27)

Those who use Instagram to look at pictures of male body gain a point of references for comparison. From the continuous supply of images that instagram provide. I can understand how that could lead towards a negative self-schema. 

I could relate to this idea personally. Scrolling through the images, there is a moment of pause where you evaluate yourself against the images of men on screen. I can appreciate how that could drive a person towards changing their body. you have something to compare with where you can see elements that you receive as  'better' or more progressive, more evolved and defined than what you currently have. 

It taps into something inherent in our behaviour. It's a pursuit of an idealise unknown identity which is constantly changing, adapting, in flux and evolving. Some people have a clear and fixed physical ideal and goal where as other people have a more fluid sense of their identity.

This notion of ideal form has no truly fixed position. Although we can make comparison with each other and there are marketed industrial prescribed notions of an 'ideal'. Through more democratic platforms like instagram this ideal is opened up to a much greater range. Everyone has an opportunity to market themselves in a desirable way.

To me the physical male ideal become ineffable and relative. An ideal body becomes an internalised idea by each separate person.

I got sucked further into a descending digital rabbit-hole.

 I started to notice that this group of men were often complimented with tattoos. This spun me away from a well of self loathing and poor body image into a more specific interest of body art. I became more fascinated by these inked images scarred upon their skin. 

Through instagram people get to use their body as a blank canvas and tattoos help them become a brand. 

The two elements can become symbiotic.
*A sample of the images I collected from instagram; profiles are at the bottom of the article

There is also recurring locations used for these pictures. The bathroom, bedroom, white wall, outside etc. Some pictures are elevated by light and a striking location.

The majority of pictures are Selfies (pictures taken by the account holder as a self-portrait). They aim to find relatively neutral backgrounds. As a virtual space there is less interest in the aesthetic of physical space they are in. The appear to be a greater interest in themselves as the subject and focus of the picture.

 I also acknowledge that this app can be used as a social platforming device. Account holders upload content on the basis of gaining recognition or a response to a post they have uploaded. 

By design people are likely to upload content they believe will create a impression or response. 
Instagram gives viewers/ followers the ability like and comment on posts. This way it is possible to see how a post is 'ranked' by how much people respond to the image.

What is useful with Instagram is that it also has hashtags.
 Hashtags provide points of shared interest that you can hone into specifically based on your subject of choice. 
These hashtag reflect on-line communities that exist internationally and are defined by shared interest. 

I realised instagram is doing more than just providing a space for men to individually upload pictures of themselves and show their body and facial tattoos. Through the use of hashtags they are creating easy to access, self defined subcultures.

The more I looked that the images the more I realised there are similarities in the way they present themselves and express themselves. 

 Tattoos are known for acting like an armour as well as visibly showing parts of a person's personality. Internalised ideas can become branded features inked on skin, defining parts of their personality which they want to actively display on their surface. 

 I then focused on #facialtattoos a smaller subculture (currently at 11.1k posts whereas #tattoo has 131M posts as of 21.05.20).  On the whole these type of individual accounts on instagram contain uploads of a figure (usually themselves), displaying their tattoos.

Not every person has a tattoo. A person with facial tattoos stands out relatively uniquely in a local area; but it can also be something sought after and desired in the context of a global marketplace.  

Individually and geographical they might not have many people who look or act like them. Through their on-line presence however, they can link into a clearly defined communities of people who curator themselves in a way which is closely aligned to their interests.

I found a sense of identity within this group, a commitment tattooing as a practice, identity, culture and even commodity.
 The closer I looked at the images I found some examples displayed how tattoos are used to cover or hide areas such as scars and birth marks. They are also used as a means to accentuate features for example greater muscle definition, defining jaw lines or creating a more prominent or reshaped throat.
Some people chose to take tattooing further in to realm of body modifications such as piercings, split tongues and Scleral tattooing (making the white of the eye turn black).


From this point I started to try and source a selection of images which I could as references for a large scale image. My ambition is to aim for a target of six images as a series which will look at a particular focus within in each image under the hastag #facialtattoos.

 I came across @alex_hace selfie, pictured above.
What I found compelling about @alex_hace's account is that he has
 tattooed across his forehead:

 'Hard Core Vibes'

To me these words are branded across his head as a defiant self-fulfilling prophecy. It's confrontational and daring, challenging anyone else to be show how extreme as he is. He is bold enough to live with the mantra tattooed on his head. 

Instead of his heart on his sleeve he has his state of mind displayed on his forehead. 

There is another element of challenge and assertion of his identity on his cheek 'Not Fake'. It shows how far he is willing to go to prove who he is internally through branding himself externally for all to see.  He also has an image of a Uzi, a crest, a snake, a heart and a Scream which starts the letter 'S' shaped like a a treble cleft and ending in a line resembling sound waves. 

Different fragments of his story are displayed across his face.

 His throat is also roaring Jaguar (Associated with someone fearless, willing to speak out, a leader or warrior) and at his chest is a eagle with a sword cutting through its middle (associated with protector, powerful, and fearless authority. may represent fighting spirit, immense courage, skill at war, and possessing power).  

I found in all the examples across the hashtag #facialtattoo elements crafted across his face and body act as symbols. 

They give the viewer clues about their personality but I also imagine the person  with a reminder of who they want to be like a totem.

I also found it interesting that @alex_hace is Russian and that he chose to write these statements in English. He speaks both English and Russian in live videos and writes his statements attached to his pictures in Russian (instagram can translate these instantly for the viewer).

He also has a following of 56.7k followers (as of 21.05.20). Apart of his following may also be connected to his status as model who is connected with several agencies. He has been involved with photo-shoots and catwalks for several large brands. 

He has gained status through his pictures and the content that he creates on his profile. He has achieved a large following which has made him more desirable; in a way to idolise.

I decided that using this picture as a starting reference for the piece as his expression and tattoos tapped into the themes I was becoming most interested in.

I noticed that people who use or search for the hashtag #facialtattoo often follow each other and support and comment on each other's content through commenting liking and following their profile.

I noticed that this picture had received 37 comments and 3,562 likes. I found it funny that most of the comments we a series of positive emoji's.

 In a way accounts and their followers have formed a global tribes with their own visual language.

Its possible to scroll through your phone and virtually hop across various parts of the world to find common ground.

 Its easy for anyone to look at uploaded content showcasing individual designs and artistry. There appears to be more happening than men showing off their muscles and tattoos. There is a sense of unity between those who expressing themselves in this way and those who actively follow them and admire what they do.

I also found lots of similarities in the way men associated with #facialtatoo present themselves through these pictures. Close up facials with a chin up high to extend the neck and show off a defined edge of the jaw line.  Some of the picture show their whole body, usually be topless and their body will take up a lot of focus for the picture.

There is subtle micro gestures in the images that repeat themselves communicating nascences to viewers. 

Scroll through these images felt like a virtual display similar to other type of animal rituals. For example how a peacock will fan its feathers to attract a mate.  
 There are even examples of peacocks being used for tattoo designs (there are currently 48,694 posts for #peacocktattoo as of 21.05.20!)

Note: These two examples are not connected to #facialtattoos. 
Both examples however display a direct gaze, beard and flexed arm. This priovides greater definition to the muscle by the position of the arms in flex and the positioning and colouring of the peacock tattoo on the bulge of muscle.
A Selfie as consumerable content.

Profiles which had a connection to #facialtattoos and had a large follow, at times were promoting products.

There is usually a gesture which can be associated which a stance of power and prowess or a muscle flex. Asserting themselves in some ways to be admired.

In other pictures there are images showing close up eye contact to create a connection or relax recumbent pose in soft light to show more vulnerable, open poses which are more inviting to viewers to draw a connection to them. 
 I started to avoid looking at pictures which were attached to products and accessories. 

Some of these pictures are clearly designed to connect brand identity between the model and a product. What appears empowering is that owners of the accounts have creative control about what brands they chose to align themselves with. I did not want to explore this area further as that would be looking into areas of consumerism which is an element connected with this cultural identity but isn't a consistent focus.

I wanted to concentrate more on how these men pose in these images and present themselves. There is a standard set amount of space to present themselves but they individually express themselves in different ways. Through their body language, body art, physicality and expression.

I am more interested how these groups are presenting themselves through social media something similar to a contemporary global tribe. I find it interesting how tattoos are an incredibly old art form.

 I even looked how far back we have records of tattooing and found and article of the oldest record which a dates
around 3250 B.C (full article here)

This graphic shows the general location of each of the 61 tattoos on the Iceman’s body. (Photograph © South Tyrol Museum of Archeology/EURAC/Samadelli/Staschitz.)

 This bracelet-like tattoo adorns the wrist of the 5,300-year-old Iceman. (Photograph © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/EURAC/Samadelli/Staschitz)

Tattoos on the body of Ötzi, the Tyrolean Iceman. (Photograph © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/EURAC/Samadelli/Staschitz)

Ötzi had 61 tattoos across his body, including his left wrist, lower legs, lower back and torso dating back 5,300 years!

I find it fascinating that we have a history of reinventing how we present ourselves which goes this far back in time. 

Through my research I found these images of an arm sleeve tattoo from shoulder to wrist of different animals. The tattoo is of Scythian origin who were warriors of ancient Siberia. Here is a link to A British museum exhbition about the tattoos and here is a link to more about Scythians

I wanted to incorporate these images into the design of picture and create a college to pay homage to historic routes of tattoos alongside the selfie of Alex Hace to make a comparison between past and presents style of tattoo design. 
taken from my sketch book 

This lead to this sketched design for creating a large scale image. I knew that I wanted to create a piece using sewn thread as my medium. Once I sketched out the rough composition and colour scheme I intended to use I felt that the emjoi's needed to come into the picture to help balance out the composition of the piece.

Reflections on the construction of this piece:
I started by painting out the space of the selfie using ink on cotton.

This gave me a starting template for the composition and scale of the model.
 Once I had the full figure I then chopped up the image into sections so that I could use my sewing machine to build the image up whilst having enough space to sew!
Once I had the details of the face in place I cut out the head and Applique it on to another material. I wanted to create a layered affect between the materials used.
From this picture you can also see the difficulties in sewing the shading of the face from the position of a sewing machine against a larger image.
Instead of  sewing in the full face I kept the area underneath the tattoo exposed to show that this process was also 'not fake' and the the image had been constructed by my use of machine sewing rather than a computer programmed print.
 As I constructed the image it became more challenging to keep the material to an even stretch. here you can see an example of how the materials bunched together.

The main issues were:
Using different spacing between the thread, different areas had different density of me using the sewing machine. 
Some areas used freehand embroidery and other areas used a traditional foot and pedal to make clear line work.

This meant the tension was all over the place across the image so in sections I had to rework into the image. 

In other areas I had stretched the waft and weft of the cotton underneath making the overall images stretch beyond its original design. This meant areas had to be adjusted and cut to reshape the proportions of the image.

Once I was confident in the position and design of the figure I moved onto recreating the designs from the mummified sleeve from the Scythian tattoo. 

I drew out all the emoji's that were left in response to the selfie that was uploaded as a record of appreciation for the picture.

I also looked at different lay-outs of the overall composition and tested if I preferred black or white as the background for the image. 
Once I got the pieces in a composition I was happy with I created a new sketch to block our areas I wanted to colour in as build up.

From these images you can see how the areas surrounding figure built up over time. Normally I would use a sewing ring to help reduce the bunching of the material. As you can see in areas bunching occurred across the image and had to be evenly sewn out.

 Because the centre part of the figure used a lot of blue and green tones I tried to offset the image with splashes of contrasting colour, mainly pops of orange and red.

 I also found it difficult to know when to stop.
As I continued to build up painterly marks I kept on having to lay the image out so I could see if I was happy with the whole image together. 

I wanted the individual elements of the piece to come together cohesively but also allow a loose freedom within the piece. I want the view to be drawn in by the image and explore different areas across the piece which you could hone into see smaller details. The aim was to create an image which could be enjoyed as a visual piece, as well has containing a story whilst establishing interesting methods of application and technique.

Main lessons learnt

Once I had created the piece I also reflected on the process of construction. I have included these lessons I learnt from my sketch book in case you are crafty like me and want to know about some of the things I did wrong and want to avoid in future.

The cost of Construction

 Construction occurred between 25 February 15 May.

When I began, at the end of February I had been working part time until lock-down.  That started 24 March after Boris announced we should all stay home. I believe I roughly worked 10 days over that period.

Then I was able to work pretty much five days a week for an average five hours until I finished on the 15 May (59 days). This brought me up to a total of 69 days worth of work. So if I was paying myself (which I'm not) and charged £50 per day (£10 per hour)   

In terms of my aspiration as a self sustaining artist this would mean that I would need to charge £3,450 for the construction time alone.

This figure also doesn't account the planning, materials or sewing repairs that occurred in order for this becoming a piece. This in itself is enough to make me to question why am I doing this and question if this the right medium for me?

Working in Textiles is really rewarding but its also really challenging medium to work. Looking at the overall cost of this piece in labour gives me pause about continuing to develop this series further! 

Lockdown has given me the space and time to really focus on this work. Having the opportunity to work consecutively with a piece of work is really rare for me. It did allow me to stay connected to the process of the work. When I work part time, the lull between sessions can puncture your productivity.  

It has been useful to test my practice and work out if working at this scale is the right creative direction for me.
Made during Lockdown 15th May 2020

*List of instagram accounts:


1 comment:

  1. I love Hard Core Vibes, especially the way the colors were done. And the Adonis Complex sounds like a fascinating book. By the way, I have a new comic book available now on Comixology: