Monthly Archives: March 2015

Wilding the edges

Following on from Lucy Orta’s Genius Loci talk a couple of weeks back, I had a day on a walking tour of Wimbledon, under the title of “Wilding the Edges”. The event was badged as an “interactive walking tour of Wimbledon’s unexamined places: a journey through spaces which straddle both city and countryside and where “wild” and cultivated” environments overlap.” We split into a number of groups: I went in the group led by Lucy Orta for those working on the Genius Loci project, and we were encouraged to photograph and take notes on areas which interested us as we passed through them. I have to admit to having decided to go my own way with my thoughts: I discovered I had been left off the list for those working on the project, so had missed all of the communications. Not really a big issue for me, I just concluded that I would try to make the walk relevant to my own proposal entirely.

Some photos first:

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As you can see by the pictures – I was interested in two things. One was clearly the line, broken and unbroken. Where is there continuity and where fragmentation? These paths allow us to ask where have we come from, and where are we going.

Second, I was attracted to the ‘non-places’, the areas you only ever pass through, with no narrative, no history. This got me thinking about site-specific work, and how much is about the place, rather than about any place. This has sparked off from some of the sketchbook work I have been doing on maps of the nameless city: any place, every place. These exist as the antithesis of the haunted place, soaked in memory and the spirits of the past more real than the history of the present. There is an echo of the earth in the haunted place, and we become the medium of the storytelling. In between the anyplace and the haunted place lie marker points – fixed points in time and space. Where are these found? What narratives of place are so strong that all thought from past and present converges around a single point?

After the walk we concluded the session with a ‘Barcamp’ discussion (a type of un-conference) in the pub, where we were invited to “reflect upon the social and political implications of the hybridised spaces and explore how we might respond to them as artists”. There was a number of separate interesting discussions on each table we could join/leave at will.

The discussion I spent most time in asked “What does it mean to be an urban human in the wilderness?”. We spent a lot of time trying to define what wilderness (and wildness) actually means. Most of us thought instinctively about landscape, nature – the wilderness of an actual physical location. The poser of the question had a different, and rather fascinating, perspective – that wildness is a state which exists within all people and all things – relating to an idea rather than a physical topography. ‘Wild’ is a combination of rising energy and free will. We also talked about the edge lands – the semi-wild places – where the boundaries become blurred. When you exist here, your behaviour changes, the way you look and act within the world. We become transfigured by the way we interact with the edge-land itself. This to me had echoes of the words from Boradkar’s book, Designing Things, which talked a lot about this transformation in relation to object (or thing) and the user.

So in summary, I won’t be carrying on with the Wimbledon project – although it was badged as a CCW thing, I think it was really meant for the Wimbledon MFA students. However, I gained some very valuable insights into my proposal question, and the idea of research by walking is a very interesting one. Helen Goodwin, whose research methods I very much like and which are aligned to my own proposal, talked about this in her research paper: “If everything is moving, where is here…”. I was so taken by the methodology described in here that I have been gradually working though most of the books on the bibliography.

She defines her practice like this: “I am interested in ideas that centre on what it is to define place and belonging. How inextricably bound do we become to the places in which/where we are born, live or travel to? I wonder how we develop our sense of belonging to those particular places. How much importance can we attach to these ideas as our societies become increasingly mobile? In a series of activities which possibly echo my having lived in different cultures and my sense of displacement, I have begun to collect and exchange material of place; the art works I make cease to be objects but become actions and gestures.”

Through doing this research, I have come across a rather intriguing strand of study known as psychogeography, which sounds very much like what we were doing on the walking tour. Psychogeography is the point where psychology and geography meet in assessing the emotional and behavioural impact of urban space. The intro book I have found [Coverley 2012] states that: “The relationship between a city and its inhabitants is measured in two ways – firstly through an imaginative and literary response, secondly on foot through walking the city. From Urban Wandering to the Society of the Spectacle, from the Dérive to Détournement, Psychogeography provides us with new ways of apprehending our surroundings, transforming the familiar streets of our everyday experience into something new and unexpected.”

Textile basketry @ West Dean College

Great weekend at West Dean, such a lovely place and a lovely tutor, Mary Crabb. We were focussing on the technique of twining, which I was first introduced to in Shane’s basketry worktop at Stave Hill last term. This course however, was looking specifically at soft structures, using textile fibres to create the basket forms. A great technique which I very much enjoyed using, where the structure is formed from the strength of the weave without needing any wood or wire supports. I think this is going to be a very interesting thing to explore back in my MA work.

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The group was 10 ladies all with a range of interests and experiences, but all of us pretty much new to basketry. It was a great atmosphere and set up, West Dean comes highly recommended – especially the Sunday roast and rhubarb crumble! This was our tutor, Mary Crabb hanging up some of our samples for display. Most of the structural supports we used were a thick paper yarn, after that we used either thinner paper yarns or any other mixed fibres – it was fascinating to see what people’s colour and textural choices were, from the huge box of goodies Mary brought for us to use.

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We were taught five initial samples using different techniques and applications of twining including a couple using willow supports. It was up to us how we developed those samples and if we wanted to add any 3D aspects or keep them flat. In light of what I am trying to do with my Camberwell work, I thought trying to see where the 3D elements could come would be most useful!

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Sunday was a little different, as we were encouraged to “freestyle” and use the techniques we had been taught on anything we had liked most. I tried two things – first a very miniature basket (so cute!!!)

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The second piece was a bit more experimental, where I wanted to see how far I could push the structural properties of the technique. This isn’t yet finished, so I will continue to work on this at home – just need to get some more paper yarn on order!

Finally, here is a shot of the work which Mary does – quite a lot of her current pieces are working with thin wires. Amazing meticulous work which takes days to do. Let’s see if I can come up with anything quite as interesting! Overall a great course.

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A change is as good as a rest

More fun things ahead on week 1 of my off-site study break!  I’m off to West Dean College tomorrow for a weekend of textile basketry. Look like it should be fun as well as a good set of new skills to add to the portfolio. We were asked to put together some images, colours, or textures for a motif that we could draw upon over the weekend. I have an idea in my head, which is aligned although slightly tangential to the current direction of my MA project. I think however it might be good for me to explore something just from my quilter’s instinct with pattern and colour, and take a break from worrying about my project for a bit.

The idea is about the Japanese concept of mono no aware, which is how I would describe my feelings towards nature. Mono no aware is roughly translated as the pathos of things – a sensitivity to things, both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life. According to mono no aware, “a falling or wilting autumn flower is more beautiful than one in full bloom; a fading sound more beautiful than one clearly heard. The sakura or cherry blossom tree is the epitome of this conception of beauty; the flowers of the most famous variety, somei yoshino, nearly pure white tinged with a subtle pale pink, bloom and then fall within a single week.” Mono no aware states that beauty is a subjective rather than objective experience, a state of being ultimately internal rather than external.

This is a couple of drawings and colour swatches I have put together.  Let’s see what I end up making!

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2015 Journal Quilt Challenge

So at last the end of term break has arrived. A chance for a change of pace and some reflection on the term past, as well as a few fun things. One of the fun things on my to do list is catching up with my 2015 JQ challenge, set by the Contemporary Quilt group of the UK Quilter`s Guild. Each month we need to create a small quilt of a set size – this year being 6” x 12” – on any theme of our choosing.

My theme for this year is going to be Bloodlines. I thought I would look into this work in my sketchbook…

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The theme will let me play with my calligraphy work and different ways of transferring stories (and my newly named “stream of consciousness” poetry).  I think i will keep the colour palette limited to allow the techniques to vary. This was my starting point for my January quilt, based on a poem written in one sitting one lonely afternoon. This one used fabric marker and watercolour paints.

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And today i finally finished the quilt! Added a bit of tannin printing and a lot of seed stitching. Happy with this one.

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I also got started on the February JQ today, a nice step from the first experiments, but still based upon a poem written in one stream, calligraphy and ink. Also used some of my hand dyed fabric made using tannin staning.This is the progress so far – layers pinned and ready for quilting.

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Feedback from mid-point review

It was an interesting day yesterday, hard work, but some very valuable comments given to all of us as part of our mid-point review. Essentially a very big group tutorial just a bit more scary. The morning after, I have mixed feelings on how it went; I wasn’t happy with what I said when I presented my proposal(s), partly from not preparing well enough what I wanted to say and partly from garbling when I did say anything. I think I have spent too much of my career so far as a facilitator – presenting facts and opinions of others in the balanced, unemotional way you need to in corporate life. So much harder is talking about things which are very personal and really matter to you. If I am going to continue with such a ‘personally-rooted’ story, then I will need to know how to tackle this and be less self-conscious. However, feeling uncomfortable perhaps is a sign of getting out of your box. If you are very happy about everything then what can guide you on how to improve?

Otherwise lots of constructive feedback and questions from others on my work including some very useful general comments made to the whole class throughout the day:

On my proposal topic

  • Was it the right move to scrap by first proposal?
  • Is place and placelessness actually a question about belonging?
  • This topic is still very big, how will I focus this down?
  • Is what I am asking about actually identity? what is your identify and how you define yourself – the place you are currently in is just one point on this journey
  • It is ok to have two separate strands which you are looking into, these are likely to come together somehow in the end. But don’t force it, and don’t end up with numerous completely separate proposals.
  • How do you define a border?
  • What can give everyone a universal understanding of a personal feeling?
  • Don’t worry about forcing a research question because you think you have to – ask yourself is this really the thing you want to understand?
  • Answering the question is not the most important thing, it is understanding what the question really is

On my way of working

  • Why do I collect maps?
  • Why are so many of my objects made up from lines?
  • Don’t loose sight of the bigger picture, you may need to think small and think big in alternating cycles
  • Focus on the materials you are using, explore an idea to its full potential before moving on
  • A thousand ideas of different things to do may in fact be a hindrance, try something completely different to shake up how you think and work – e.g. changing scale or tempo
  • Be wary of experimenting with specific places which don’t mean anything, don’t sent yourself another “exercise”

Ideas and suggestions

  • Most of the other MADM students are international or have moved at some point, perhaps ask them their experiences of placelessness
  • Look up Do Ho Suh, Architecture fabric art installation related to belonging, displacement

So what next?

Well, we have the advantage that our 10 weeks ‘off-site study’ is now upon us. A great chance to slow down and reflect on what’s been going on and what to do next. A few ideas have started to slowly emerge from yesterday’s fog in relation to the last few samples I made, but I think I also need to do some more work on understanding and exploring the question first. Perhaps I have unwittingly spent too much time trying to answer it.

Next step — plan of actions to be taken

1. Research links between identity, place and belonging; how much of our identity is linked to place, and what does actually this mean if we understand that “place” means much more than just location?

2. Bring in the independent work I have been doing for my CQ Quilt Group based on my stream of consciousness poetry; I think this is a critical strand which will be relevant to my proposal and shouldn’t be ignored

3. Decide which of the material samples I wish to focus experiments on, and begin exploring the full potential of it without getting distracted by a thousand other things. Current instinct is that this should be the rust dyeing process and the map yarn.

4. Do some sketchbook work on understanding how I can describe my feelings of place, placelessness (or belonging / non-belonging) using both visual imagery and poetry

I was once here: making my own fabric

New experiments in progress looking at transformation of materials, using the spirit of materials related to a particular place, aiming towards a set of samples of my own “hand-made fabric”. I think this is a nice extension from the handmade silk paper experiments. I know I can make and use the silk the paper now, I don’t want to make any more samples until I have better idea for what to do with it.

Hand-spinning paper yarn using Shifu technique, from abandoned copies of the Evening Standard and my collection of vintage maps.

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Rust-dyeing, from MADM studio leftovers (thanks to Nathan)

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Focussing on the processes for now, I will consider the context for the forms I will make with this stuff later.