Visual Culture Blog – James Bragg

Reading Group Glossary
Making Histories
Visual and Cultural Hierarchies
Questioning Visual Materials
Participatory Culture

Reading Group Glossary

  • Glossary – an alphabetical list of words relating to a specific subject, text, or dialect, with explanations; a brief dictionary.
  • Historiography – the process of writing/archiving history or the study of that process.
  • Pedagogy – the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept. The approach to teaching.
  • Self-actualisation – the realization or fulfilment of one’s talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone. Represents a concept derived from Humanistic psychological theory and, specifically, from the theory created by Abraham Maslow. According to Maslow, represents growth of an individual toward fulfillment of the highest needs; those for meaning in life, in particular. It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially.
  • Modernism – a period of time 19th to 20th, something about scientific progress, a way of thinking. Is there a clear definition of it – not fully, although writers will try defining. Modernism is a style of art and design but that is only part of it. Probably a loose collection of ideas, including a range of ideas. Rejected what came before, in visual arts – removing decoration, urban. Desire to shape a better world – utopian, aspiration towards a better life and arts has a place in that. Belief that technology has a place in that, a means to achieve social improvement, transform society. Largely left leaning.
  • Post-modernism – mid later part of 20th century. Mixing up of high and low cultural forms, engagement with popular culture rather than critiquing it. Breaking down cultural heichachies and boundaries. Quoting from the past, reflecting on the past. Retro designs. Celebrating of the past. Disallusionment with the idea of utopainism.
  • Semiotics – the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation. The semiotic tradition explores the study of signs and symbols as a significant part of communications. Includes Linguistics, but also non-linguistic signs.
  • Syntagmatic – pertaining to a relationship among linguistic elements that occur sequentially in the chain of speech or writing, as the relationship between the sun and is shining or the and sun in the sentence The sun is shining. denoting the relationship between two or more linguistic units used sequentially to make well-formed structures.
  • Paradigmatic – Paradigmatic analysis is the analysis of paradigms embedded in the text rather than of the surface structure (syntax) of the text which is termed syntagmatic analysis.
  • Structuralism – a method of interpretation and analysis of aspects of human cognition, behaviour, culture, and experience, which focuses on relationships of contrast between elements in a conceptual system. Structuralism is the methodology that implies elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader, overarching system or structure. It works to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel.
  • Poststructuralism –  Movement in literary criticism and philosophy begun in France in the late 1960s. An extension and critique of structuralism, especially as used in critical textual analysis. Post-structuralism argues that founding knowledge either on pure experience (phenomenology) or systematic structures (Structuralism) is impossible. This impossibility was not meant as a failure or loss, but rather as a cause for “celebration and liberation”.
  • Text – anything which requires interpretation, how it’s meaning is constructed. Every text you encounter you need to understand how  it relates to other texts. Intertextual references (like the Simpsons).
  • Motet – In western music, a motet is a mainly vocal musical composition, of highly diverse form and style, from the late medieval era to the present. The motet was one of the pre-eminent polyphonic forms of Renaissance music.

Making Histories

Imagine you are going to curate an exhibition on the history of your discipline. Compile a list of 10 practitioners (or specific pieces of work) that you would include and write brief notes on why.

The first problem I found with this task was working out what was meant by “history of your discipline” which to me was very unclear. Did discipline mean Fine Art (course name) or a sub-genre like Painting or did it mean something more like My Practice, the actual stuff I have done and do. I feel like I am only starting the more focused artistic period of my life and haven’t developed a discipline, and probably will never keep to a narrow field anyway. Also did history mean the history of the discipline – like the history of sculpture, or did it mean my personal history – as in what artistic development I have gone through through my life. So I’ve decided that I would choose 10 artistis who represent my slow developing artistic awareness through my life. My career until recently has been Medicine, but behind that I have drawn regularly from very young, developed some interest and skills in painting. I learnt classical piano and cello then moved and stayed in electronic music. I started adding live improvised projected visuals to accompany electronic music performaces. I have been involved with computers as they came into existance and have mainly used them for creative activities. More recently I have been investigating virtual reality as an artistic space.

1. Claude Monet
Hitchhiking around Europe in 1984 I remember entering the Musee du Jeu de Paume and seeing 5 of these paintings in a line which strongly impacted me. Only partly representational but amazing in colour, tones, shadows, light.

2. Paul Cezanne
I particularly remember being puzzled and fascinated by the hint of geometric shapes appearing in the way he painted trees. It now slightly reminds me of how modern computer 3D modeling is often done by making a complex shape out of multple simple solid objects like cubes or spheres

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3. Mark Rothko
I loved the size and colour of these paintings – I felt able to lose myself in them – totally emersed – I gather this was his intention. They seemed to be like entering a fantasy landscape and have influenced my experiments in using virtual reality.

4. Orbital
One of my favourite mainly instrumental electronic music groups – 2 brothers behind loads of gadgets which tended to push them towards developing the visual side of their performances which are epic.

5. U2
This band I followed throughout their career and my life since I first heard of them as a post-punk band in 1982, through becoming international megastars. At one point I bought a new album of theirs without hearing it first – Achtung Baby. They abruptly changed style from big US style rock to European dark electronica. This was the same point that I had bought my first CD player and the first track Zoo Station sounded so wierd that I wondered whether the new technology was broken!

6. Coldcut & Hexstatic
self-titled “Multimedia Pop group” I found this groups mix of sound and visuals astounding. Not only did they take samples of sound to construct new music, but they took the video clips of the sound being made and these constructed the video element. I found this very inspiring and I worked out, after seeing this, how audio/video clips could be triggered live to improvise a musical/visual performance.

7. Robert Barker
In 1792 this Irish painter coined the word Panorama to describe his paintings – complete 360 degree landscapes. I have been looking at virtual reality landscapes and his work and it’s affect on viewers at the time seems very relevent.

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8. Sanford Wurmfeld
A living American abstract painter who was interested in colour theory, colour progressions and enlarged his canvases until they became 360 degree abstract paintings – Cyclorama.

9. Nicola Plant
She created a VR based installation that immerses the participant with glowing particles that interact with the body. I’ve been a gamer since their start and user interaction seems very normal to me.

10. Mat Collishaw
1966- A British artist who in 2017 exhibited a new virtual reality work called Thresholds. A fully immersive portal into the past with a digitally reconstruction of one of the first ever photographic exhibitions in 1839.

Visual and Cultural Hierarchies

10 favourite practitioners in my field – what is it about their practice you value?
Again I find this difficult to answer as I don’t have a field as yet and might try to avoid this if possible. However as part of a process of self discover I’m going to put together 10 practitioners who I really appreciate and see if any patterns emerge. The original lecture discussed subjects such as who is included and who isn’t, who decides, so I suppose this is my opportunity to disagree and include who I consider significent or meaningful to me at least.

1. Banksy
I have lived in Bristol since 1983 and have been part of the music scene. I have been aware of him for many years and watched his rise. We went to the Bristol Museum exhibition which was incredible. I loved his gentle yet cutting humour. Like riot police runnning hand in hand through meadows.

Image result for banksy riot field

2. William Blake
I have a deep interest in exploring spirituality and I found Blake’s visual portrayal of God so much more profound and powerful than most other attempts.

Image result for william blake god

3. Janet Cardiff
The Forty Part Motet (A reworking of “Spem in Alium” by Thomas Tallis 1573)
Forty separately recorded voices are played back through forty speakers strategically placed throughout the space. I found this fascinating as you could sit in the middle to hear the whole or wander in front of a speaker to hear each separate part. Like a live orchestral piece where the audience could wander between the musicians to look in detail at what each was doing. I have considered, before I saw this, the idea of producing a multipart composition with each part coming out of separate speakers.

4. Salvador Dali
Just madness – I love it

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5. Michael English
British artist known for poster designs he created in the 1960s for musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and for several series of hyper realist paintings in the 1970s and 1980s. I remember seeing these when I was in my teens and loving them. Particularly the hyperreal coca cola items with drips.

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6. Anthony Garrett
I stumbled across this painter in a small gallery in Chipping Campden and was very stuck by some of his paintings which combined abstract landscapes with very geometric foregrounds of buildings.

7. Joseph Banks
I suppose this might not be included as fine art, but for me botanical drawings are wonderful as they catelog new discovery but so beautifully. Add in the sense of adventure of sailing new oceans and discovering new people and creatures..
Metrosideros collina, collected at Tahiti during Sir James Cook’s first Pacific voyage on the Endeavour.

Image result for banks botanical drawings

8. Albert Namatjira
Born in 1902 he was one of the most famous Australian artists and was the first aborigini to gain Australian citizenship but it ended tragically. His watercolours for me captures the colours and mood of Australian landscapes and trees in a way that artists who moved to Australia struggled to do. My mother was from Melbourne and even though I’ve only ever visited for short periods I feel a strong connection.

9. Auguste Rodin
Again while hitch-hiking across Europe in my late teens I went to the Rodin museum and was stunned by his sculptures. Life appeared to be breaking out of the stone. Also being a heterosexual male I find the naked female form incredibly attractive and beautiful.

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10. Henri Rousseau
Self-taught primitive manner which was ridicled during his lifetime but I loved his rather cartoon like jungles as I love the tropical forests themselves. I gather he never left France and painted from botanitical gardens and other resources.

Henri Rousseau, Tiger in a Tropical Storm, 1891, National Gallery, London

Questioning Visual Materials

Choose a practitioner whos work you find interesting. Identify and list 5+ paradigms in which they operate and impact on how you understand their work.


Coldcut is an electronic music duo – Matt Black and Jonathan More producing music and performing from 1986 till now. They were known for their innovative style of cutting up samples from Hip-Hop and Funk records but also spoken word, video and multimedia.


  • Electronic Music, computer graphics, AI’s – using technology to be creative. This has been central to their careers.
  • Club Dance – music for a particular use – to be played in a club as a communcal dance event.
  • Sampling – how snippets of sound from the natural or manmade world or from previous works can be woven together to creat new works.
  • Audiovisual – they experimented with how video of audio samples happening could be cut up and pasted together to produce new compositions of sound and vision – “What you see is what you hear”
  • Randomness – they have explored regenrative music including making an app called Playtime which had an auto cut-up algorhthym would would generate surprising combinations of audiovisual.
  • Interaction – they created an interactive installation for the Glascow Museum of Modern Art which allowed users to mix their own combinations of sound, music, text and graphics.
  • Environmental issues – such as deforestation and effect on native people. These have been central themes in quite a few of their videos.

Participatory Culture

Four phases of the history so far of Participatory Culture. What do I think the next/present phase would be.

Phase One: EMERGENCE (1985‐1993)
Phase Two: WAKING UP TO THE WEB (1994‐1998)
Phase Three: PUSH‐BUTTON PUBLISHING (1999‐2004)
Phase Four:  UBIQUITOUS CONNECTIONS (2005‐2011)
Phase Five: Where are we now? QUESTIONING (2011‐2018)

I feel the fifth phase should be called QUESTIONING – our personal invovlement in participatory culture emerged, expanded across the web, became easier and then became everywhere. But now many younger people (not just old people saying wasn’t it better it our days) are questioning what effect all this has on our mental health, our relationships and our society.


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