, , , , , , , , , ,

This post continues from Research Point – Post #1

At: https://cormac513273.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/research-point-post-1/

Sophy Rickett’s ‘Objects in the Field’

Sophy Rickett has been grouped among those artists whose work ‘introduces a conceptual and experimental relationship to landscape’ (Durden, 2014: 175). Specifically she ‘uses the night to explore perceptual and formal issues intrinsic to photographic representation. Using the landscape as a motif she strips down its elements (Durden, 2014: 192).

Sophy Rickett’s exhibition ‘Objects in the Field’ consists of several series of photographs, a video and a supporting booklet of text. The work’s title ‘comes from the lexicon used by astronomers and astrophysicists that refers to stars as ‘objects’ and to the sky as ‘the field’ (Franchi, 2014). To produce the work Rickett collaborated with Dr Roderick Willstrop, a retired astronomer based at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge. ‘Objects in the Field’ includes several works (see figs 1. and 2.) where:

Rickett has appropriated a number of Dr Willstrop’s abandoned negatives, reprinting them by hand using the analogue process and altering them through her own subjective and aesthetic decisions (Franchi, 2014).

In her essay booklet that accompanies the exhibition Rickett describes her relationship with Willstrop. In it she makes clear:

that her engagement with the photographic archive has operated on a primarily sensory level – aesthetic/emotional – rather than out of interest in the original scientific purposes and results (Jeffries, 2014).

In an interview Rickett describes the tension that resulted between these two modes of seeing – broadly, the artistic and the scientific:

when I first met Dr Willstrop, I was interested in exploring areas we had in common, mainly relating to process; for example we both worked through the night and usually on our own. We also share an interest in the night sky, and perhaps some sense of landscape, although I don’t think that he would ever describe his work in those terms, and it was that tension that I began to find more and more interesting (Boothroyd, 2013).

Thus there is at the centre of this work is a disputed meaning and experience – that of the artist who sees and experiences the images of the night sky subjectively in terms of ‘landscape’, and the scientist who experiences them in a single unambiguous objective scientific way, as ‘traces of the real’. This classes the art as ‘postmodern’ because it has been argued that:

This inability to have ‘a pure, unblemished meaning or experience at all’, is, I would submit, exactly the premise of the art we call postmodernist. And, I would add, it is the theme which most characterises most contemporary photography, explicitly or implicitly. (Grundberg, 2003, 164-179).

To the viewer of the work this difference of point of view is apparent and made explicit in the essay Rickett wrote that accompanies the exhibition. There she relates ‘subjective impressions and memories from her childhood connected to optics, seeing, and the fleeting nature of the encounter’ (Boothroyd, 2013). The work was done in collaboration with a scientist who resisted the artistic interpretation of his work (or even the idea that it could be so interpreted). Rickett relates:

I admire the completeness of Dr Willstrop’s commitment to his work, the steady application of industry that he has maintained for over sixty years. His work, and his connection to the stars, has provided this continuity that has endured for his whole life, going back to when he was five and his father gave him a telescope so they could look at the night sky together. There’s something in the way that this fascination has provided a bedrock to his whole life that I really admire, in some sense linked, not so much to what he’s done, but to how he’s done it.

… a few weeks ago during an ‘in conversation’ event between the two of us and the director of Kettle’s Yard, Andrew Nairne. Andrew turned to Roderick [Willstrop] and asked him what he thought of what I’d done … it was the first time that question had been put to him so directly. ‘I’m very grateful to Sophy…’ he began – and a sense of relief started to flow over me, before he continued ‘… for making the digital scans. They have made some of the over exposed areas of the negatives just so much clearer…’ So what he makes of the aesthetics is still unclear – although at the private view, he seemed quite happy! (Boothroyd, 2013).

The context for the words ‘continuity’ and ‘bedrock’ above suggest the reason for Dr. Willstrop’s reluctance to engage successfully with the artistic effort. The description of what characterises postmodernist art (see Grundberg above) suggest that it questions the concepts of ‘bedrock’ and ‘continuity’ in relation to any body of work, or even a lifetime’s work. To Rickett all her experiences including ‘impressions and memories from her childhood connected to optics, seeing, and the fleeting nature of encounter’ (Boothroyd, 2013) are important as she makes clear in her essay. Perhaps for Dr Willstrop, in contrast, such connections, for example ‘going back to when he was five and his father gave him a telescope so they could look at the night sky together’ (above), prove more difficult for him to perceive in the work itself; it follows that allowing for only one single viewpoint (that of the scientific) he also struggles to include Rickett’s.

Question: Sophie Calle and Sophy Rickett and the postmodern approach to narrative

Both of these artist’s works as discussed above have elements in common: the use of various media and the questioning of the ability to have a single narrative viewpoint, a single ‘pure, unblemished meaning or experience’ (above). Calle’s work, because if deals more directly with the personal, relates perhaps more strongly than Rickett’s to the ‘insider documentary’ photographers like Nan Goldin who explore more personally and perhaps more painfully postmodern theories of mediation. Thus, while Goldin’s photographs are unflinching in the face of painful experience (see fig. 3.), Calle is less self-centred, letting any pain disappear under the weight of her friend’s support in supplying different, multiple narratives to her experience. She relates:

At first it was therapy; then art took over. “After I month I felt better. There was no suffering. It worked. The project had replaced the man.” She feared he might come back seeking a reconciliation, which would have ruined the whole thing (Chrisafis, 2007).

Rickett’s work similarly takes two viewpoints that are often seen as opposite i.e. the artistic (subjective) and scientific (objective) and seeks to marry them in a single narrative centred on a set of photographic negative of the night sky. Rickett too employs other media, in this case text (an essay), to compliment the narrative strength of the work.


Boothroyd, Sharon (2013) Sophy Rickett [online] At: http://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/sophy-rickett/ (Accessed 23.10.14)

Chrisafis, Angelique (2007) He loves me not [online] At: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art (Accessed 23.10.14)

Durden, Paul (2014) Photography Today. New York: Phaidon

Franchi, David (2014) Exhibition Object in the Field by Sophy Rickett at the Grimaldi Gallery, London [online] At: http://londonartreviews.com/2014/03/13/exhibition-object-in-the-field-by-sophy-rickett-at-the-grimaldi-gallery-london/ (Accessed 23.10.14)

Jeffries, Tom (2014) Objects in the Field [online] At: http://www.thelearnedpig.org/objects-in-the-field/900 (Accessed 23.10.14)

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Rickett, Sophy (2013) Observation 111 1991/2013 At: http://photoparley.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/observation-111.jpg?w=500&h=624 (Accessed 24.10.14)

Figure 2. Rickett, Sophy (2013) Objects in the Field (Installation at Kettle’s Yard, Sep 13th – Nov 3rd 2013) At: http://photoparley.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/dsc4296.jpg?w=500&h=333 (Accessed 24.10.14)

Figure 3. Goldin, Nan (1984) Nan one month after being battered At: http://www.americansuburbx.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Nan_goldin-Custom-4.jpg (Accessed 24.10.14)