The artist Alan Constable is almost completely blind and has for the past 30 years been creating ceramic non-functioning cameras and viewfinders - objects of objects that see. His work is currently on show at The Gallery of Everything, London, part of the exhibition 'Action, Camera!' through June 18th. In the first installment of James Thomas's experiential review series 'How to Change the World' we slip inside the artist's body and imagine the creative process from Constable's perspective.
Constable, born in Melbourne, Australia in 1965, is a multi-disciplinary art-maker whose prolific output includes drawings, paintings and sculptures. His two-dimensional works appropriate imagery found in newspapers and magazines, sometimes with a political or social aspect, yet it is his iconic ceramic sculptures which have propelled him to international acclaim.
Constable's theme is the camera;his oversized clay replicas reflect a lifelong fascination with visual technology. Some are household brands:Leica, Canon, Rolliflex, Nikon and Konia. Others are large formats, lesser known eastern European models or discontinued lines, there are movie camera (both supper 8mm and 16mm), slide projectors, binoculars and telescopes.
Constable has been based at the Arts Project Australia Studio in Melbourne for 25 years. Through their advocacy, his work is now in significant public and private collections, including the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia. Exhibitions include The Museum of Everything in London, 2011 and Rotterdam in 2016.
I hold the camera in my hands and I imagine that I am inside the artist’s body. For a moment, I am the maker. I am transposed...
My mind perches on a branch.
I go winding down into belly of the earth with strange Borgesian dreams.
I wrap around unexpected delight. I am fed by music.
It wraps around me and makes me feel safe.
I am hovering over a precipice and held perfectly aloft in the intelligence of my hands.
Practice invites me as the sound of a bell.
With every piece, I am becoming complete. In the holiness of my solitude.
I get to know the minute folds. I feel the hushed suspension. I listen for the texture of balance
in my hands.
I feel the concave waves yawn inwardly into pyromantic forms.
I work on two pieces at a time, like a fighter pilot. To keep myself out of the way.
The outer shape of one takes its secrets from the reflection of the other.
I listen for the ways these cameras speak. I am feeling for the ‘just so’ place.
I stand back and cover my eyes from exploding clay pots in my the furnace of my imagination.
I think about the sound of this camera dropping on the floor. A dull thud of wet clay.
It’s like when a fortune-teller collapses or smashes what she saw on the back of a raw
dimension. But sometimes it leads to the unexpected.
There is something in the subtleness of the clay that keeps seducing me.
Like I am making my way towards a camera that will be able to capture the whole universe.
It’s taking time. It has been taking ages. Perhaps I am hoping for too much.
Hoping that somehow an artwork will affirm a hidden secret love that no longer matters to me.
Perhaps it will bless a rejected inner goodness in another.
When I am feeling pure insights like this, the work always turns out well.
That’s why I am so quiet. I am deliciously lofty with my own thoughts.
But I must distance myself from the thought of how expensive art can be.
These things barely make me anything and the art world is a silly mess.
What chance does a blind ceramist have? I am going blind and people don’t have time to learn
about the blindness in their own hands.
Do you know something?
These cameras would take invisible pictures if they could.
That’s what they do, in fact. Every photo is the quintessence of yearning.
Every photo captures a pose that silence herself makes when she gazes at herself in the mirror.
These cameras are full of photos like that. It is ‘just so.’
When I reach the edge of my sense of touch, I listen for the whispers just beyond the border.
When I am in tune, you know, in a good conducive mood, then I can dance with magic.
No Lazarus miracles for me. When its falls apart, it falls apart.
But I move into the unknown at the best of times. Though I never really get there.
Of course not. You know. Really truly. No one does. Beethoven nearly went mad reaching for it.
But he went farther than most.
I like to think of myself as some antipodal blind Lao Tzu riding his yak into the great mists.
I will keep on going in my way. Beyond the edge in my own body.
Out there, to the Great Hum, the Great Expanse. In my blindness, I am beginning to feel more
like a living shape. It must always be that way for dancers.
It is becoming that way for me too. I love the music that is playing. What is it?
Do you understand what I mean? I want to communicate magically. I want to coax people.
I want them to dive down into the inner worlds of these objects.
To listen for what they might have never heard in themselves. I want them to really hear.
The way that is not easy to do. To be students of infinity.
I leaf through the secrets buried in each camera. I get to hear them as they are born.
But they arrive impersonally, you know. In the way you might understand it.
They have no special message for me. They just are. They read like transparent photographs.
They come apart when I try to explain them in too much detail. They come undone.
But my, they are beautiful when they keep together.
There are only the slightest hints of form in the best ones.
The world is moving too fast. Quiet secrets like mine are difficult for busy ordinary people.
There is just so much significant difference between us. The practical kind of difference, you
know, the kind of difference that really makes people believe in the things they do.
These cameras have the holiness of that which could see but never has.
Like those ascetics in India that hold up one arm or never cut their nails.
They could see if they wanted to, but they decided not to.
And in this way, they are sure of themselves.
Art happens within a person. These days I am in the place beyond imagination, where there is
the odd bird flying past over head, and time slides through my day like a seal flapping at space
grasping at the air all around.
I can almost always feel the heat of the kiln fire wrapping around what I plan to make
tomorrow. I try to picture my own face looking back at me from a glaze.
Sometimes I can see the essence of myself clearly.
I am the photo man making little symbols for how I got to be this way with clay.
My memories are photographs taken by my mind, which I have lately been mistaking for
proof of my soul.
But it is good that I am beginning to get close to both surrender and control.
It has become a convenient necessity for me.
Other people have to fight to allow what nature is softly revealing in my world.
My best perspectives are just for me, so I keep quiet about them.
But I can always find something beautiful or at least redemptive. When I allow myself to be the
artist that I am.
I love the camera most, as a symbol, you know. I just works for me. ‘Just so.’
One night, I dreamt I was talking with God. It was a big voice that was cooling and complete.
Like Uluru casting a grand shadow. I felt a most complete sense of ease.
Like I was my best self in that dream.
Do bring me some tea dear when you get a chance. I am nearly finished in here.
It is too windy for the window to be left open up there.
You know, you never know when a day’s work will fall crashing to the floor.
Would be just my luck. I am like Mozart going mad inside a lawn mower some days.
I keep changing the way I sit and nothing seems to feel quite right.
It always gets that way in springtime.
Writer: James Thomas Thomas is a Canadian poet, folk musician and writer based between London and Vancouver. He has released three solo albums and composes songs envisaging them as paintings. His work is informed by the wild landscapes of Canada, the contemporary cosmopolitan experience and a multitude of writers and artists including Blaise Cendrars, Walt Whitman and Milton. http://jamesthomas.io
Editor: Harriet Poznansky
Poznansky is a British artist currently based between Oakland and London. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art London and School of the Art Institute Chicago. She currently works from her studio in Oakland’s Fruitvale district, making paintings, music, and writing short stories. www.harrietpoznansky.com