Monthly Archives: February 2015

Thirteen hours to solve the Labyrinth

This week has been the first point since I came to Camberwell that I have honestly felt like dropping out. I had four tutorials with four tutors over the course of last week, all adding more worry on how much I am struggling. I can’t make sense of my work: I have worked so hard, but it feels like grabbing handfuls of sand – the harder I push, the more it slips through my fingers. It may turn out that this course is simply the wrong thing for me to be doing at this stage of my life – it may be that it isn’t, but I need to work smarter not harder. Either way, there are some hard questions that need to be asked and answered.

When I look back on this in days to come, it won’t be the words of the tutors which will matter, it will be my realisation of hard truths. I see now that I have spent so much time trying to meet “the needs of the course” that I have lost sight of why I am here; my project is not clearly articulated and I have lost the feeling of where my technical skills actually lie. The lack of self-confidence in my own work has allowed me to get swept away, and now, I find myself cast adrift.

Where do I go from here?

A Series of Unfortunate Events

“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.”
― Lemony Snicket

Today has conspired against me, all day. From the moment I got out of bed (late), to leaving and going back into the house twice for forgotten things, I knew was in for trouble. First activity of the day was turning out my latest moulded silk paper object, which has come out ok, but much darker than expected – perhaps this adds to the ‘oldness’ I was going for, but i’m not sure if just looks too grey. Getting this ready also made me miss the bus of course.

IMG_0318 Crone watches the Harvest Moon
Handmade Silk paper

After an event-free morning in the library, my discovery of David Poston cheered me up but got me back thinking about experimenting with weaving and spinning my own paper thread. Following my inner tutor voice saying “why do you want to do that”, I can’t quite decide if this is experimentation or a desire to ‘play’ with new things. Having been brought up on this already, I’m getting to a point where I am double-guessing every thought. Not sure this is helpful. After David Poston, I also came across the fibre artist Naoko Serino whose jute soft sculpture work I liked, and whose style is similar in feel to my current experiments.

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After a few more trivial but increasingly irritating annoyances, I bumped into Shane on the way out of college and we had a quick chat about things. I tried to explain how my ideas had been developing since our last group tutorial, but seemed to end up in a muddle again. Everyone seems to have a different idea of my project than I do. How have I got myself in this confused a position? The main issue is when people offer me ideas I can tell when they are not in keeping with what I want to do, but can’t immediately offer better suggestions on what I do want. Very irritating, but I’m sure I’m not alone in this? Perhaps I’m moving away from the specific idea of ritualised making, as it feels like is turning into a constraint I’m fighting against, not with. I came out of college with the impression that he and Maiko are worried about how well I’m getting on with the course. Hard to tell if this was true or a result of my projections of a bad day.

The only positive was that I shared a new poem describing my current theme which seemed to have the impact I wanted.

I am standing on the edge
Halfway into darkness.
A lone crow flies overhead,
then melts into shadow;
The flickering light of the crescent moon
unhelpful, and unwatched.
The silence in the wildwood
is absolute.

Angelique Talbot, Feb 2015

I wouldn’t normally dump all this stuff in once post, but I need to express the frustration I suppose. Days like this make you wonder what the point is, and whether you would be better off on your own without people’s influences or academic hoops. Lemony Snicket maybe offers a little balance to the mood…

“At times the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough. and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.”
― Lemony Snicket

Artist’s Profile: David Poston

Libraries are wonderful places, and you never know where you might discover the next ‘clue’ in your research treasure hunt. While perusing back issues of Crafts magazine I came across the jeweller David Poston. He describes himself as “an inter-disciplinary problem-solver and a 3D designer-maker.” I wouldn’t normally pay much attention to jewellery, but this one stood out. I love the elegance of his designs and the materials he uses; unassuming and not remotely blingy like a lot of jewellery you see around. He avoids precious metals and stones and instead works with things like nylon threads, stainless steel, hemp rope and beads.

Paramount for him is the connection between object and wearer – not the object and the others that look at people wearing it, an apparently unorthodox stand in Jewellery circles. However, one I find interesting given my interest in the relationship between maker, object and user. Structure wise, I noticed that the style of his work is an extension of the forms I have been drawing recently, and similar to the sculptor I blogged about last week. I also find myself attracted to the weaving, an idea I am still toying about with. David works in collaboration with Dovecot weaver Jonathan Cleaver on the woven pieces.

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Experiments with silk paper

I had a good tutorial with Bridget last week, where one of the things we discussed was how my drawing/calligraphy could be an integrated part of my practice – using inspiration from the drawings to use in design work. I liked this idea, as it gives an immense creative satisfaction when all the elements of what you do can feed into each other.

I had some free time to get some college work done over the weekend, so decided to start exploring my new “moment”. I don’t have a useful shorthand description of it yet, just a bunch of feelings. I did some spontaneous drawings of the mood to get me started before embarking on looking into some new making processes – still focussing on paper and silk. The first sheets of handmade silk paper are looking great, I’m going to make more to do some stitching with. Here are the first samples and 3D models made with different varieties of silk paper

IMG_0309Silk paper sample (silk noil)

IMG_0311-1Moonlight over the wildwood
Silk throwster’s waste

IMG_0310-1Drawing down the Moon
Paper + raw silk spun thread

I have sat here staring at my keyboard for 30mins, but still can’t come up with a better way of describing the feeling I want to capture. Here instead is a quote for one of my favourite authors which says a little something about today’s work:

Haruki Murakami, IQ84

“The moon had been observing the earth close-up longer than anyone. It must have witnessed all of the phenomena occurring – and all of the acts carried out – on this earth. But the moon remained silent; it told no stories. All it did was embrace the heavy past with a cool, measured detachment. On the moon there was neither air nor wind. Its vacuum was perfect for preserving memories unscathed. No one could unlock the heart of the moon. Aomame raised her glass to the moon and asked, “Have you gone to bed with someone in your arms lately?”
The moon did not answer.
“Do you have any friends?” she asked.
The moon did not answer.
“Don’t you get tired of always playing it cool?”
The moon did not answer.”

Expecto Patronum

I have had about three different blog posts mixing themselves in my head over the last few days not knowing how to tease them apart to make sense of what I’m thinking. The end of the week has arrived, so this seems a good a time as any to try.

First off, let me remind you of this rather special moment from the third Harry Potter film, my favourite of them all, of Professor Lupin teaching Harry the patronus charm for the first time. (If you haven’t seen the film then where on earth have you been for the last decade?!)

The thing I’m pointing out in here is Harry’s choice of memory or feeling which he is using to fuel the spell. For his first attempt at the charm he thinks about a nice, clear, happy memory – but not nearly emotionally attached enough to work. His second successful attempt, is using a memory of a deeper, more complex emotion – love, loss, happiness, grief.

This is the feeling I have after reflection on the elements pieces I have been making this week. Nice use of new processes, getting clearer on a message – but is it really the emotional message I am looking for? Well no, not yet. I want to look deeper – into something more complex and more human than simply commenting on the elemental building blocks of life. I started this term with wanting to make things to invoke a feeling of a moment of special, perhaps altered perception. The cliched “moment of zen” aka “wow isn’t the cosmos big and amazing” is ok, but like Harry, just seems all too ‘nice’ for me at the moment.

So, I went back to my current theme’s starting point, the feeling of listening to the rain. Looking beneath the first reaction – the feeling of stillness and distraction from hypnotic white noise – for me the sound of rain brings a whole host of other associative memories. My dad is an avid (slightly obsessive?) angler, and most of my family childhood memories revolve around weekends and holidays around the water – the tent on the beach sat next to the tackle box; warm, sunny days by the reservoir pretending I was in swallows and amazons; the stormy days watching waves crashing over the pier; hours spent hiding from the pouring rain, playing games with my mum, while dad fished on, and so on….it is no wonder I am most at home by the water’s edge, and (thanks to my personality I guess), my heart belongs to the wild and lonely places. Rain, particularly heavy rain, has the power to transport me away from a boring meeting straight into the past.

I wonder then if tapping into this would be an interesting next step from my elementals work. My project proposal as it stands is about moments of extraordinary experience, of altered perception. This moment is about the feeling of standing on the edge:
— the ebb and flow of exposed, raw emotions,
— the influence of the past, the lost and forgotten places
— loneliness, the windswept moor, the moon’s reflection over the water

IMG_0302 This week I also came across the artist / sculptor Jennifer Liston Dykema, who makes work similar to what I am currently trying to play with/ aim for, which I really, really like. Some of her work, talks to me of elemental things. Here are a few pictures below which capture a little something of what I am trying to say.

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Elementals III

In my catch up with Maiko last week, she suggested I explore other making processes and also that I make some 3D forms. So I thought I would start the week off following on from where I left off with the elemental inspired basket-things I made last week.

IMG_0296At first there was a realm of fire and ice
Paper, acrylic, sand

IMG_0297At first there was a realm of fire and ice (detail)

IMG_0298Elementals: Fire (Queen of Wands) II
Paper, acrylic

IMG_0299Elementals: Fire (Queen of Wands) II
(Detail of tri-axial weave)

I’m actually happy with progress for once!

A conversation between maker and object

I have had a few days away from the studio visiting family, giving me a chance to catch up on some reading while travelling. A couple of very interesting things sparked my attention, both on the topic of the meaning of objects and materials.

First, the book Designing Things (1). This is one off our MADM recommended reading list (which I have not yet had a chance to really look at in depth).

The general gist of what I highlighted was a discussion on meanings, and how they are not “an inherent property of the things themselves, nor are they total fabrications of the human mind; they are suspended in the spaces between us and all that is around us”. I was very intrigued by the description of a reciprocity of agency between things and the makers of things. Although I am not sure I really understand properly what agency means. Another key point was on objects as signs, and how the form and meaning of an object are interrelated and how is is a fundamental concern of what an object says. Something must have a form in order to be seen, but it must also make sense in order for it to be understood and used.

“…designers do not create meanings – they create form; it is users who create meanings. The network within which things exist serves as a location where designers in the process of design and users in the process of use construct meanings. Each actor – designer, user, thing, meaning – in the context of the network and in interaction plays its agentic role in making.”

Meanings do not exist within people’s minds, and neither are they embedded within things. Meanings exist in a non-physical, non-psychical network that includes people and all things. Meanings should not be thought of as entities, but rather as structure in motion constantly evolving, heavily context-dependent and generated by individuals, social groups and things themselves.”

So, I can but simply suggest meaning in my making by choosing certain forms, materials, colours and textures – so to nudge users into constructing certain meanings. This brings us back to my Challenge of the moment – better understanding the materials I am using. I need to look at the suggestive meaning of materials beyond just its obvious touchable qualities. On the train home, with a surprisingly good 3G signal, I found an article by textile artist N. Nimkulrat (2). She talked about the material and its role as an active participant in the creative process. (This is what I think agency is essentially about – is that right?). Anyway, the core of the article was about giving consideration to the expressivity of a material in a given context.

Materials are not passive, nor are they instruments, but interact with the maker’s artistic intelligence when his or her hands, mind and eyes are engaged in a creative process….through the act of [making]…meaning was embedded in the physical material, gradually transformed into an artefact, which in turn articulated this meaning through its physicality back to the maker.

So again, the message to me is that I need to explore the expressive qualities of a material – knowing that materials with different tactile and visual qualities will express different things. On top of that many fibres have a long history and complex social context around their usage. This may be a help or hindrance to what I am trying to say.

Current thoughts are definitely focussed on fibres. I have started working with paper, predominantly for its ordinariness, and looking at using silk for its extra-ordinariness. My intention is to try to stay limited to allow me to explore more making processes, and not get too distracted by shiny new things again. I’m missing stitching though. Possibly I should also look at how I can utilise stitching with these two different types fibres.

(1) Designing Things, Prasad Boradkar, Bloomsbury 2010
(2) Nimkulrat, N (2012). Hands-on intellect: integrating craft practice into design research. International Journal of Design 6(3), 1-14

With making in mind

I had an unexpected and very useful chat with Maiko today about how I have been responding to feedback from my last tutorial. I was keen to check with her that I’m not running down another rabbit hole! We had a good discussion and some thoughtful points were raised for me to think about:

— I have a habit of thinking very “mathematically” in fixed linear processes. Can I embrace freedom? I think this will take a while to work on, as I’m still not sure how to do this!
— Nor do I need to keep setting myself ‘exercises’. This is an interesting observation, as I hadn’t actually realised I was doing it, but if you look back – I have!
— not to forget that I should consider how all humans react to a particular expression, not just focus on my own feelings. Some artists get away with the “it’s all about me”, but perhaps there is a reason within their works as to why this is so.

So what to do next to learn from this?

— explore some other making processes. I am going to continue to restrict my materials – but not put any “rules” on it like it did with #100cubes, instead focussing on expressions through fibre
— continue to explore my other angles, spreading out the feelers of my research into whichever corner – not forgetting to link back to my original ideas of myth & ritual.
— look closer at what processes people use for work I like and relate to, and conversely what is it about those I don’t relate with.
— question what processes I want to use I my own works?
— Do I want/ need to express myself through stitching, or something else?
— just try to make something three-dimensional!

Well! It’s now 6pm and I’m at home listening to the radio. I’m feeling quite positive facing the exciting challenges ahead.

I couldn’t resist one piece of making for the afternoon so thought I’d just go with it, following up the idea of “taking the ink off the page”. I am working with a new process so thought I would experiment with making what the material wanted to be made into – following natural curves, rhythms and grains. These two sets of things just appeared out of the process.

Elementals: water (Queen of Cups)
paper, acrylic, sand

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Elementals: Fire (Queen of Wands)
paper, acrylic

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I met a man who wasn’t there

I have been looking at extending my ideas of paper and ink calligraphy to see where I should take it next. A few making ideas are floating around in my head at the moment.

1. Making ordinary paper extra-ordinary
Can I take the ideas of using ordinary paper, and make it into something extraordinary? To do this I thought I would look into using silk – the voluptuous soft delicacy of these rich fibres – to make handmade paper. The long history of silk (and silk paper in fact) adds an interesting narrative, although I need to check how this aligns to my project proposal.

2. Taking the ink off the page
The other idea is looking at “taking the ink off the page”, using a different process inspired by basket maker Dorothy McGuinness, who uses acrylic painted paper to make beautiful complex basketry.

The key will be in deciding what form to make my objects. I want to use the ideas of the ritualised making – changing the balance of thought and action. My aim for this experiment is some intervention which is purely of the moment with an element on the unexpected or the unknown: a “balance of the highly controlled and the accidental”[1]

The other thing I have been looking into is the use of automatism in surrealism. Some great insights so far from the book, The Haunted Self on surrealism and psychoanalysis [2]. “The technique of automatic writing practised by the surrealists with some fervour was widely understood by them as fracturing an illusory self”. However, “are surrealist works destined to betray the unconscious in the course of trying to represent it?”. Freud apparently spoke of this concern also, in speaking of the unconscious “as an inference made from the gaps or omissions in conscious discourse, or from the roundabout form in which the unconscious wishes to manifest in dreams or symptoms, but not as something knowable in itself.”

Another book on surrealism I found by George Bataille [3] has the following poignant quote:

“What distinguishes modern man and perhaps especially the surrealist, is that ink returning to the primitive he is constrained to consciousness even as he aims to recover within himself the mechanisms of the unconscious, for he never ceases to have consciousness of his goal. Consequently he is at once both closer and yet further away.”

The last adventure of Wednesday was our weekly cross-programme lecture, this week from Roderick Mills, an illustrator from England. He talked of his worked and his inspirations, and the bit that really caught my attention was his talk of the uncanny. He talked about emptiness, absence, non-places and non-words, the space off screen. I thought this was fascinating, and brings back the thoughts I had last term about things that are familiar but different.

He also showed a trailer from a Sapphire and Steel episode which was so creepy and drew you in instantly, even if you were slightly terrified by the end. Another type of moment which fits into my proposals. I’m now thinking back to the ghost candles which were the very first things I made on the course. Perhaps an avenue to re-explore?

[1] Textural Space: contemporary Japanese textile art
[2] The Haunted Self, David Lomas (2000)
[3] The Absence of Myth, George Bataille