In 2015, I saw Zhang Enli’s Bucket 8.
It has remained with me ever since.
Every few weeks, it would reappear again in my mind, hoisted from an involuntary place.
I have only recently realised why this work has been present since the initial sighting.
We will return to Bucket 8.
When does the production of a piece of art begin? Too big of a question, if you’d like it to be. To keep things simple, 5000 began with that first sighting of Bucket 8.
A period of unsettlement.
I travelled to Amsterdam, alone.
A Masahisa Fukase exhibition. Pilgrimage.
I had always felt linked to Fukase – the reason for this feeling was to become far more obvious.
Between 1976 and 1982, Fukase photographed the book Ravens – the book a direct response to his divorce. In May 2017, my own copy of the book (which I had pre-ordered months prior) arrived in the post, the day after my own relationship began its official end.
Amsterdam was my first trip alone.
At the Fukase exhibition, Private Scenes, Foam gallery, Amsterdam, I saw, for the first time, the Fukase photograph that depicts his dying Father being carried.
I stood in front of this photograph for some time, and, for the first time in my life, privately started to grieve.
31 st October 2010, I had carried my cancer-stricken grandfather upstairs to his own bed for the final time. The night of his death. I had carried him carefully exactly as in the Fukase photograph.
A solid, strong man.
Now a trace.
I had never grieved for him. Nor for the multiple other family members lost since.
I spent most of the rest of the trip alone in my hotel room. I explored the ceiling.
I have realised since that during my time in the room, I was processing my own feelings regarding loss. I needed a way to contextualise these feelings through art. I also needed something else. Immediate. As people do in times of need, I took religion.
I began to read The Tibetan Book of the Dead. There were rules. I needed something constant. Lasting. I read only three words a day. I calculated that I would finish the book at age fifty-four. Plenty of time to achieve enlightenment.
Art was still present. Photography however, had come to contain too much. Too much information. Too much noise. Too much everything. Did I need all of this information?
I reduced life down to two words.
I previously mentioned religion. I had made attempts at Transcendental Meditation with mixed results. I started to consider the idea of a mantra in relationship to art. The theory of repeating something to achieve a cleansing.
I printed the words over each other.
I repeated them as my mantra.
To me, the two were interchangeable.
The grief that I had felt previously was directly tied to the love I had for those I had never grieved for.
But could it be broken down further?
Did we need language at all?
Did it need to be a series of characters?
Was I interested in showing language, or a concept possible through language? The possibility offered by language. What if I sought only the feelings it could produce? To give those feelings a space to exist.
I reduced further. The first printing was a simple black square. Printed over and over itself. My mantra.
I experimented. Other shapes.
I introduced language again.
Why did I feel the need to introduce additional elements?
I was ignoring the significance of process.
At this point, I did not realise that process could be enough.
Away from art, repetition was becoming more and more prevalent in daily life.
Recording daily push-ups. Receiving post.
At this point I read Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse.
I became obsessed with the idea of Ascetism.
I started to reduce life to essentials.
Possessions were disposed of.
People were disposed of.
Then my dog died.
There really was nothing left.
So I ran. And ran. And ran. Hundreds of miles. I ran every single day.
I ran because running was my meditation. It flushed my mind. I almost ceased to exist when running. Or perhaps, it was the only time I felt like I truly existed.
As with Fukase previously, I had another coincidental happening with a Japanese man; Haruki Murakami. I had started running before reading his work, then learnt that Murakami is big on running. So big, that he had written a book about his relationship with the activity, within which he wrote:
“I’m not a human. I’m a piece of machinery. I don’t need to feel a thing. Just forge on ahead. I repeat this like a mantra. A literal, mechanical repetition. And I try hard to reduce the perceptible world to the narrowest parameters.”
This quote sparked the idea of turning the body into a machine and matched my thoughts on reduction at the time.
Turning back to art, I started to experiment with different materials.
Cartridge paper. Vellum. I knew at this point that I only needed a black square to communicate what I wished to. Why was I adding more language to the piece via different printing materials?
My goal was reduction, yet I kept trying to make additions.
These additions hampered my efforts to reduce myself to the level of a machine. They complicated the process.
The repetition was the key.
The action. The action. The action.
I settled on normal stock office paper. It allowed the action to happen without complication.
I loaded my car with a printer and several toner cartridges.
I drove to a secluded cottage in Anglesey where I would not be disturbed. I had always previously been to Anglesey with a partner and my dog. To go there alone, this time, felt like an exercise in reduction itself.
I have spoken of linked things. Fukase, relationship ending, death. Murakami, running, reduction. I have realised the beauty in these connections, and they continue. I arrived at the cottage, and on the wall, next to the front door, a wire square – a remnant of something else that had been.
My goal was to reduce through repetition. I would feed a sheet of paper through the printer 100 times. Then a new piece.
Reduction. Accumulation. Repetition.
Reduction. Accumulation. Repetition.
I sat at the table printing for 27 hours.
No break. No music. Minimal food/liquid.
I kept a diary during the time.
I wrote little.
When you reduce life down to nothing, there’s not a lot left to write about.
There were cigarettes. The tap expelled water every few hours. I noted this down. It seemed significant. I ached. I felt good. I ached more. I became paranoid about the kitchen door.
Immediately after the final repetition, I yearned for the outside world. People. Things. Life.
The most important thing to me became the blank pages of the diary. I became supremely aware of their significance.
I laid out the 50 prints.
They had been with me for some time, and they weighed so heavily upon me.
I considered methods of reducing the work further.
In The Pot (2015), Sarah Forrest tells the story of a woman who wants to hold something. For the woman, the product is not important. It is the idea. The holding.
“…I’ve been trying to write a story about a woman who wants to hold a space. But in order to do this she has to first create an edge, a limit…the pot is a side effect A (sic) necessary manifestation, she says, of desire. It is not the object but the holding that she was after.”
Enli’s bucket is the pot.
It is a container for space.
I have realised that the bucket represents potential – the potential to hold something.
To fill a void with something valuable.
That is why Bucket 8 has been present for these years.
My 50 prints were not important to me.
They were my pot.
The toner square, my vessel for holding something.
I took each of the 50 and scraped the toner from each square.
Sometimes, the paper would rip. Other times, the toner would be perfectly expelled from the paper with a little puff of excess toner dust.
The parts amassed, ready to be their sum.
I used my hands to form a large, singular square from the residue of the 50.
Now I am interested in what happens beyond the square.
Beyond the edge, the limit.
It is my action, my feeling, my space, that I wish to give to the viewer of my work.
The scraping of the 50, and the formulation of the 1, is exploration beyond the squares.
It is a visual representation of what it has been.
Strong body reduced to frailty.
A trace of life.
Reduced. Repeated. Representative of an idea. A feeling.
To the viewer, I present the residue of my actions.
I wish for you to fill your own bucket.