As an experienced international educator, Dr Andrew R. Wollock has a passion for exploring the proclivity of visual arts for secondary purposes. He has joined WSA as the Associate Director of Programmes for our Chinese Campus in Dalian. We asked him to tell us a little more about himself and his work.
Calum Kerr: Can you share with us some of your influences and some of your thoughts about art and art education?
Andrew R. Wollock: I draw a lot of inspiration from postmodern thinkers such as Barthes, Baudrillard, Jameson, and Lyotard. From this essentially epistemological standpoint my interest in arts has been influenced and I have developed interests in asymmetry, playfulness, the use of minimal cues and counterspace to suggest rather than tell. In that regard it was philosophy before art for me. I think of all design like an early Cindy Sherman photograph; a still-frame from a moment in time; a moment in time which alludes to a point beyond the surface, to something greater than the sum of the parts. I think it is important that any art, design or fashion not only comes from a place beyond the immediately visible, but also leads the viewer towards a destination beyond, and that is why developing higher-order skills and being able to rationalise one’s process is, I believe, as important as any product. I see design as part of a dialogue with the output acting as interlocutor with the viewer, and it is in that writerly space where the viewer/reader also brings with them something of their self to personalise what they see. For me art education is no different from other subject areas within the wider arts & humanities insofar as I am looking to see the existence of higher order skills such as deconstruction, analysis, synthesis, research, criticality, and discourse.
Some of my strongest influences would be (in no particular order) Mark Rothko, Bernard Buffet, Jackson Pollock, Saul Bass, William Scott, Jeff Koons, and Josef Albers. I am also very much influenced by brutalist architecture especially Soviet architecture, and after spending so long in Japan I am naturally influenced by the Japanese aesthetic and the Japanese colour palate, especially the traditional Japanese tattoo (Japanese wa-bori [和彫]). In additional to the visual mentioned above I also draw influences and ideas from literature and would count amongst my strongest influences: J.G. Ballard, Raymond Carver, Murakami Haruki, Tim O’Brien, and Brett Easton Ellis.
CK: You are also a practising artist. Tell us about your work.
AW: I’m quite eclectic in my work and try hard to push the demarcation lines between disciplines. I’m not especially product driven and tend to focus much more on the process, the act of making, of engagement with material, subject, and self as a way to better understand oneself, and in amongst that perhaps produce something which conveys that ethos to the viewer. I believe that if creative output starts from a particular point of inception, be it political, axiological, pedagogical or epistemological it doesn’t matter what mode or method of expression you choose; again I think it is important to recognise the process of art making and not become solely focused on the products, so my work tends to be very process-driven. In terms of disciplines, I originally I studied graphic design and then moved towards photography; I now work mostly with illustration and graphic arts in quite a traditional arts and crafts, or manual way which plays a lot with surface and layer.
Some examples of my work can be seen here:
CK: You spent a long time working in Japan. How did that come about, and what was the work?
AW: Whilst studying photography (BA hons) I became interested in the correlation between photography and Zen – not so much in the way Cartier-Bresson appropriated it, but more so in respect of the traditional Zen Arts of Japan, and in particular returning to the origins of no mind (Japanese: mu shin [無心]). This state of clarity has historically been the point of departure for not only the brush arts of Japan, but also the martial arts too, and I became interested in engaging with this concept to explore the interaction between subject and photographer in the process of taking photos. Following that I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship to study for an MA in photography at NTU, and it was that which first took me to Japan. My research at that time was a critical examination of the Japanese visual identity which explored the sociological function and psychological role of imagery in the shaping and maintaining the quasi-mythical Japanese national identity. Whilst in Osaka, in an attempt to move away from the stereotypical and quite contrived notions of Japaneseness, I photographed and engaged a lot with what might be called the ‘dark’ side of Japan (Japanese: ura [裏]) – the side of Japan which is seldom shown in the national advertising. Through this interaction I shot a lot of fashion, music, tattoo, and street photography and from there began showing the work in galleries and working as a freelance photographer/graphic artist, I was also involved in the Japanese tattoo world. In tandem to this I was asked to teach photography and it was this which first brought me into higher education. In addition to teaching photography I also began working with Arts-based Educational Research (ABER) as a way to engage learners with secondary subjects. This was inspired by the innate proclivity of the Japanese for using ABER methods, a propensity which derived from their use of Sino-Japanese pictograms (Japanese: kan-ji [漢字]). Little-by-little I became more interested in the visual and visual methods for secondary purpose, and it was really an extension of this interest which I researched for my doctorate.
Some examples of my classroom ABER can be seen here:
CK: Your PhD was completed in Belfast. Can you (briefly) explain what you studies were?
AW: Yes, it was essentially a largely qualitative ABER undertaking based on the theoretical frame of Paulo Freire’s ‘Critical Pedagogy’ and Donna Mertens’ ‘Transformative Paradigm’ which used mark-making for a secondary purpose, namely as a means to explore hope in a deprived working class area of Belfast called the Donegal Pass. I conducted a longitudinal study which saw me embedded in the community as an insider-researcher. The actual research was centred on transposing a Japanese wooden prayer called e-ma [絵馬] (pronounced like the girl’s name ’emma’), as a means to get participants from ‘The Pass’ to engage with and record their hopes in visual forms. The resulting tablets were then displayed, unfettered, in a local park as a collectivist dialogical artwork/installation which allowed viewers to directly engage with it; to touch the tablets, re-order them, and move them about. As a votive tablet e-ma were not randomly transposed, rather, they were used because as an areligious animistic belief system shin-tou is a was a very appropriate vehicle for exploring hope in a post-ceasefire context like Belfast which has seen three decades of sectarian civil war. The outcomes of the research were that e-ma generated oral and visual data of both a qualitative and quantitate nature, and these data could be quite clearly identified and categorised. The upshot of this is that my research gives weight to using e-ma as a legitimate and robust vehicle for gathering data in a number of different circumstances. Furthermore, because of the flexibility of the process, it allows the researcher to elect how they use the artefact in order to critically approach a given research aim. My hope is that through this and other robust visual research we can help ABER methods stand their ground and be more respected as legitimate methods in the current output-driven quantitative-leaning epoch. My doctoral website can be seen here:
CK: Do you have any current plans for research/artworks?
AW: I spent the last two years working on a series of seventy three illustrations which are part of my ‘Third-world Architecture’ project. The project plays with the notion of what is meant by the term ‘third world’ and was inspired by the incredibly innovative ways in which I saw building construction taking place on my travels in Thailand, India, Vietnam and Japan. I am currently in the process of making bespoke frames for the works which reflect the content of the images. These works deriving from representation of place have also been the stepping off point for more personal painterly work completed whilst in Belfast. Much of this work was my visual response/outworking from the extensive oral narratives I collected during my tenure there. I feel very strongly that visual outworkings have a very prominent role to play in facilitating our deeper understanding of a secondary data source, be it place or narratives.
Another on-going project is a series of typographic artworks which interpret traditional Japanese hanging scrolls (Japanese: kake-jiku [掛軸]). In this work I aim to render the content and meaning of the calligraphy in a graphic/typographic form – to use modern means of production which is then incorporated into a traditionally made scroll and displayed in historical locations such as temples and tea ceremony rooms.
In terms of text-based research I have a lot of leftover data from my Ph.D. which I am slowly sifting through. In addition to this I am also planning to conduct an extension of my doctoral research in Dalian.
CK: What do you hope for the future at Dalian?
AW: I hope that we can achieve more symmetry between the WSA campus and the Dalian campus, I think everyone agrees that it would be great to get more connectivity between the two campuses so that it is not seen as a far off ‘outpost,’ rather, an extension of the Winchester Campus. I hope that once things settle, that I can work with the staff to oversee their professional development and improve the research profile of the Campus. It is not just because as a member of the Russell Group, we need to support the wider aims and ambitions of research, but I also think that there is likely a lot of good research happening there which either isn’t necessarily considered ‘research’ by the practitioners or isn’t being fully developed. I’d really like to see Dalian generating much more research output which is authentically Chinese-facing and which can contribute to not only academia in the wider sphere, but also to the direction of flow for research. I think there is much to learn from China, Chinese culture, and the Chinese aesthetic which can help us improve our overall research profile and stimulate new conversations.
CK: Thanks for your time, Andrew, and best of luck in your new role.