Freelance Journalist Michelle Dee on Phil Ratcliffe


I’d never been to an artist’s crit before until the revelatory evening hosted by artist Phil Ratcliffe.

SOS Debate Forum: The Price of Perfection 3: ‘Making and Doing with No-Thing’.

The event began with attendees being asked for their thoughts and feelings about the following statement:

In the drama of conscious existence, it is not theory and practice that encounter each other, but enigma and transparency, phenomenon and insight. 

If enlightenment does occur, it does so not through the establishment of a dictatorship of lucidity but as the dramatic self-illumination of existence.


To begin with I was afraid and looked around the room thinking, I’m out of my depth here. I didn’t study art history I haven’t got this level of understanding. Then, looking at the words individually I formed an idea. ‘Knowledge and understanding happen by chance not by design’…This idea was picked up on by the group and I began to feel that maybe I did have something to contribute. I followed up with ‘enlightenment’ or understanding happens through personal interpretation…

The discussion led to the next concept served up by Ratcliffe, the ‘Japanese Art of Impermanence’. Explained as ‘enlightenment not through learning but through the unlearning of all preconceptions’ I latched on to this idea, it seemed to suggest that my lack of Art knowledge might not be a hindrance, to my participation, and ability to get something from the work.

Once in the space the artist posed a further question:

My interpretation was the querying of Design being functional and Art not so?

The ideas discussed suggested that using recognised and accepted ideas that are based in theory and academia, would not lead to understanding. Taking my first look at the various pieces of work in the space, this came as something of a relief.

I was intrigued by the large structure in the middle of the exhibition space that is the mODPOD, it was a bit like an adult activity toy, the mirrored panels and bright colours made it look like it had come out of a faerie tale workshop. Although some of the elements still needed fine tuning I was taken by the idea of a separation of senses. The moving images and the audio soundtrack were accessed on one side but the understanding, the key to the images, was on the other side.

The hidden, unseen object accessed through a small hole into which the participant reached into with outstretched fingers grasping in the darkness within the structure, removed the sense of sight, so all that was left was touch.

I recognised the object, even though I haven’t ever held one. This made me question what part of memory was I using to reach the decision it was such.

Turning to the framed collage works on the wall asked whether we had any ideas about what they were, a hint was given that one piece was representative of a city.

The image looked architectural a bit like a draftsman’s drawing with a person in the foreground for scale, but the door in the centre of the image was too small for the figure to go inside.  The drawing appeared to have nautical numbering and the chessboard effect suggested the idea of navigation. For the first time of many that evening I tried to put my finger into the brass holes. The first time I hadn’t realised the image was sealed with perspex but then interestingly even when I did know I repeatedly tried. There was something incredibly tactile about the shiny brass rings that warranted further inspection. I suggested it might be an interpretation of the newly built bio-mass factory the pipes and tubes leant it an industrial feel.

The other framed work was apparently some kind of puzzle. Playfully I suggested that a puzzle would stop being a puzzle without someone there to puzzle it. Just being in this space with these ideas and concepts floating around my head freeing up my mind allowing me to look at things in a whole new way was revelatory.

More nautical language may have depicted the ‘watches at sea’ and there was some kind of sign language code running down the side.

An artists statement went heavily into an interpretation of ‘utopia’ as being a no place. This description made me think of the Nowhere urns from Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Fire and the Hemlock. Each urn has the word Nowhere running around the middle, but when they are both spun the first urn can say ‘No’ and the second ‘Where’ or alternatively, the first can read ‘Now’ and the second ‘Here’. In the book when these urns are spun, the characters are transported to a different place, a place where fantastical events happen, where knowledge is gained through new experience: where preconceptions are abandoned. This brought me full circle and reinforced the initial idea that knowledge and understanding happen by chance not by design.

Finally I thought about where my own inspiration lies, I likened the idea of having a no place, a utopia, a place where enlightenment occurs, when I am writing. When in the no-place what happens is the unknown. It is in a subconscious state where inspiration is found. I have no way of knowing what will come out as I write. I constantly surprise myself as words appear on the page.

I like the idea that when in the no-place that you stop being you, you stop worrying and caring about all the usual anxieties and just leave yourself open to experience.  In this place you are free.


Michelle Dee, Freelance Journalist, Hull. 13.8.2013



About generalmagnetic

Designer Maker / Technician 3D Design - Architecture
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