In long legends from across the British isles, Hallowe’en and the old Celtic Samhain festival which preceeded it, have marked the death of summer and the start of the cold winter season. All Hallow’s Eve was the night before the start of the winter season on 1 November; the night is in between summer and winter, not belonging to either but connected to both. This liminality gives it potency, and is thought to connect the ‘ordinary’ reality to otherworldy realities. Due to this, people thought the veil between worlds becomes thin – thin enough for spirits, demons or the dead to come back through into our plane of existence.
This is why there are so many customs which are in fact old divination techniques – apple bobbing, throwing chestnuts into the fire and so on – as perhaps the veil becomes so thin you can see the future clearly. Ignoring the commercial nature of our modern Hallowe’en and the dentist’s joy of trick or treating, there is a real primal fear underpinning the Hallowe’en legend: darkness, winter and the fear of the unknown. No-one really knows if spirits and ghosts exist or if what people feel are just experiences of something else which science cannot currently explain. Reality is what we construct around us; so we interpret the unknown in the only way our brains can process.
So…perhaps you should lock your door this evening and light a candle in the window.
To mark the day, here is a poem. Samhain by Annie Finch
In the season leaves should move
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.
Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn die to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil
that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
til they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.
I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother’s mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings
arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
“Carry me.” She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.
Long, busy day today. A combination of last night’s insomnia with so much to take in has fried my poor brain. There were a lot of interesting thoughts generated however, so I will get these thoughts down before piling myself onto the sofa.
First off was the continuation of our context seminar which we started last Thursday, and the final few people finished off today. It was a really good discussion, I found having such different opinions and perspectives really fascinating – and it is great having so many different international perspectives. I wrote down a few key points for me to consider:
- Who is your audience? I want to work with anyone – I don’t want my work to only speak to artists and intellectuals. Can I make it engaging for anyone? I am not trying to be an activist or to start a campaign, but to start a discourse or philosophical discussion about ourselves and our place in the universe.
- What is craft; what is traditional craft? How old does something need to be to be a tradition? There is an adage, “If you do something twice it is a trend, three times is a tradition”. How do people currently interpret such traditional or heritage crafts across the sphere of art and design.
- History of craft: consider the history of the crafts you work with and contextual knowledge, not just using it for construction.
I also thought about my current mini-project “dimensional stitching”, and that I would like to consider other ways of constructing 3D objects from the 1D line. From line to form. New making idea: create a series of surfaces using linear materials, experimenting using different techniques (thread, wire, sticks etc). This will be something I’l add to me 10 week off-site work plan. For some reason I can’t identify yet, I quite fancy stitching with rocks and pebbles – but not sure what this has to do with my proposal yet!
After that we had a lovely talk from two MADM alumni who graduated in 2012 and have been having exiting and very different careers so far. Very interesting indeed! Sounds like a challenge though – and that the key thing on graduating is having a clear idea of who I am and what I stand for.
Last up after all of that was a group crit with Maiko, our first which was actually starting to look at the objects we have made. I showed the group the last two pieces I made before the start of this new mini-project, responding to the end of the Getting Making workshops. If you have been reading along, I am sure you will remember the wormhole like thing I made the other day. The first question was, “what next with it?”. It’s an interesting enough form – I told the group it was a bit makeshift, and was asked if it was mathematically accurate. Maiko said why not make one (if you really can make such a thing accurate). I was not at all keen on the idea, and tried lamely to explain that I didn’t want to be a scientist that made art. The group don’t see any issue with this – perhaps I have seen too many bad / cheesy attempts at representing science in art, or perhaps it really is just a matter of self-doubt. I have a real neurosy over the different aspects of myself, and this is the first time I’ve run up against it in the course. To be expected of course – and encouraged. One of my ambitions of the course is to leave knowing more what makes me, me. It just seemed a bit wrong to just make a wormhole. The best I can do to explain this is that it feels like copying – all I am doing is making an object which already exists (even if only mathematically) without any design effort; like making a clay apple. Nice, but it’s just an apple. Saying all of that however, I did like the idea of making a room sized wormhole sculpture!
So, what to do then? Well, the development coach in me says that the feeling of doubt and insecurity should be creatively explored. By trying something that I currently feel is firmly ‘not what I want to make’, l can explore the properties of this and learn something really valuable. I could think of it like an opposite I suppose. I will two new test objects – a wormhole type object (which at least looks mathematicaly consistent) and a second version which it my interpretation of it. I have also thought of a new method of construction which should look neater than the scrappy twisted paper!
This is a good popular science article on what wormholes are from Scientific American; and this is a mathematical representation.
— Long history to see fiber art as craft and art.
— associated with “women’s work”, this is still the case with many textile based crafts
— p19 “when male artists knit and see it is considered transgressive, a defiance if traditional gender roles; it is not considered craft”
— p21 “Fiber, as we see in the remarkable artworks if the past fifty years, is a material capable of limitless conceptual and material exploration”
— p154, tapestry was functional, “hiding secret passageways, or hung over bedposts like curtains, tapestry at once proclaimed and concealed divisions between and among various strata of the private domain.”
Ria van Eyk: using pure geometries to express a utopian vision for the future; sustained enquiry into the elemental nature of weaving as a structure and system. Mathematical experiments frequently supplemented by graphics.
Alan Shields: born 1944, died 2005. Using fibre as a catalyst, he breaks down the distinction between painting, sculpture and printmaking. Taking minimalism’s basic geometry as a starting point he used craft materials, witty titles and a playful palette to reinterpret one of the most ideologically charged structures in western abstraction – the grid.
Nina got it for 100 Francs, 1971(cotton yarn, paint, wood, metal, glass, plastic)
Elsi Giaque: born 1900, died 1989; among the first to reconceptualise fibre as a vehicle for abstract expression. Element spatial creates grid structures that reveal the physical properties of the materials used. Introduces real space into the work while preserving the two-dimensionality of the traditional tapestry.
Element Spatial, 1979 (linen, silk, wool and metal)
Naomi Kobayashi: born 1945; formal contrasts at the core of her art – the relationship between horizontal to vertical, soft to solid, straight to curved, yin to yang. She is also drawn to the “relationship of uchi (inside) and soto (outside) to light and darkness and to the progression of time.” The properties of the materials are inseparable from the metaphysical messages they convey.
Dark of the valley, 1979 (cotton and wood)
Sheila Pepe: born 1959. Her expansive environments are crocheted from commercial yarns, shoelaces and rubber bands that activate the exhibition space by reaching into the rafters. She channels the complementary forces of artistic intuition and gravity to shape her stringy suspensions.
Common Sense II, 2010 (rope, shoelaces, yarn)
Kay Sekimachi: born 1962. Multilayered. Driven by a desire to let the aesthetic emerge by allowing the materials and technique to speak for themselves. The sheer mesh not only defines volumes of space but grants visual access into them. At the same time, the play of light and shade on the surface renders the space ambiguous and elusive, making it difficult to differentiate between interior and exterior, surface and depth.
Amiyose, 1965 (nylon monofilament)
Haegue Yang: born 1971. Multimedia work, capitalising the capacity of fibre to participate simultaneously in discourses of formalism and social commentary. Open ended narratives through illusiveness of constituent materials.
Entanglement Encircling Bitten Circles – green, 2012 (single shaft clothing rack, casters, light bulbs, cable, cord, knitting yarn, metal rings, metal lampshades, bells, safety pins)
Books and Exhibitions to look up
— Fiber Works – Europe and Japan, national museum of modern art, Kyoto and Tokyo, 1976
— Structure and Surface: Contemporary Japanese Textiles, MoMA NY, 1998
— soft sculpture and beyond: an international perspective, 1993
— Auther, Elissa. String, felt, thread: the hierarchy of art and craft in American art, 2009
— basketry tradition in new form, ICA Boston, 1982
— Constantine, Mildred and Jack Lenor Larsen. Beyond Craft: the art fabric, 1973
— Waller, Irene. Textile sculptures, 1977
— Haegue Yang: the art and technique of folding the land, Colorado 2011
More experiments in the dimensional stitching stream today, this time working with different fibres I started from the swirly worm-hole like stitches from the weekend and tried to make this into a stable 3D form. I used rice paper (a calligraphers’ most common carrier of information) to represent the structure – which is in a sense, an information portal. This is the result:
I liked working with this type of structure – I think this is what appeals to me from Naomi Kobayashi’s work – but I do need to identify a new process for making it. Currently feels a bit makeshift, and I know Maiko won’t settle for ill formed objects. Worth exploring more – and I will see if I can source more info on Naomi Kobayahsi and her husband.
Next came the completion of my brain bones type object, following on from the one I made in wood, just with all colour and symbology removed. My ‘bones’ pieces were finally finished and out of the kiln. Not sure this one really works and I think I might put this one to bed. I do however like the outcome of the paperclay. The texture is amazing and unglazed, has such a nice feel to it as well as being featherlight. If I come back to clay in some way, it will most certainly continue to be paperclay or paper porcelain.
Finally, an unexpected and surprisingly successful dimensional object. I like this, and I like the natural fibres. There was beautiful sunshine coming through the windows making interesting shadows – hence the photo:
Final notes for the day – we are still prepping the objects for the Getting Making mini exhibition in the college library. Our tutor did a quick survey and vetting of what we had all put out for display. After ‘vetting’, I am putting two objects out. Maiko felt the others didn’t really reflect my project / didn’t really articulate my idea very well. I entirely agreed, but at the time it was the best idea of my proposal I had – I still had my multiple streams of project ideas right up until my proper reflection on Thurdsay last week. I didn’t know these final objects would be exhibited, so I was still experimenting. I am beginning to learn that we need to experiment with more finesse – even samples need to be made with intent and with care and attention. No more sticky tape holding things in place… I entirely respect Maiko’s views and I know she is trying to keep us pushing towards a suitable high quality and representation of our work which fits with the level of discourse viewers will expect. We represent not only ourselves as practitioners but also the MADM course and the college. In retrospect however, I would have liked an extra week in the workshop series – to give us a chance for us to reflect properly on what we had done over the previous weeks (which was all done very quickly, with little time for thought) and then have one final assignment to make something which incorporated that learning. It wasn’t until the workshops were over that I really started to get some of the key things around materials, process, context etc. that we’ve been exposed to so far. Perhaps this is simply as a result of me not having studied an art course at BA level, or maybe the others are feeling this too. Either way, this is what is going out in the library tomorrow:
I am working through the catalogue of the Lost In Lace exhibition, held by Birmingham City Council and the Crafts Council in 2011/12. There are some stunning works in here which very much appeal to me materially and constructionally (if that’s a word). I am feeling much happier looking at works from this angle as opposed to theory first. I plan to pick out the most interesting artists and profile a few of them which are most relevant to my planned work.
First up is Naomi Kobayashi, a “pioneering Japanese fiber artist”. She predominantly uses materials such as Japanese papers, cotton and paper thread to create works which meditate upon the cycles of life, death and regeneration. This speaks so much to my way of thinking and making. Her installations look at space, harmony and light. One of these is White Circle, constructed from twisted paper thread and washi paper – so delicate, and generates a luminous surface but such a sense of stillness. This is what I am looking for in my own work.
“This work belongs to the Cosmos series, something I’ve been working on for the last thirty years or so to express my feelings of empathy for the eternally repeating working of mother nature, which forms an endless cycle just like the whole universe. I often think how much I would like to be able to rise up and follow my late husband, just like haze or mist lifting up from the ground.” [Artist statement 2011]
Some more pictures: