Monthly Archives: April 2015

Spring Journal Quilts done

I decided to create a new series of JQs after deciding that it would not do to have one which was 1/2″ smaller than the required size (thanks to a miscalculation of the finishing). So just five days before the deadline I managed to make four new JQs from scratch and get them in on time! woo!

This is the result:

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The series I am calling: memories of home and I think this also fits in nicely alongside my Genius Loci work for college. The inspiration has been about trying to capture the spirit of place, thinking back to my childhood home in North East England. I have created a series where each month’s fabrics and techniques feed into the next month, continually building additional layers of memory. These pieces try to capture the fading feelings of a place we long for, where we cling onto snapshots of our most vivid memories.

Each piece was created from different strips of unbleached calico which have been hand-dyed using materials found in the environment around my home – tree bark, dried leaves, flower petals, rusted iron wires. These were imprinted onto the calico through tannin dying using leftover red wine and black tea. Once patchworked, I added handwritten calligraphy onto each piece based on extracts from the local Newcastle folk songs I sang as a child. All of them were then hand-quilted using raw tussah silk threads with additional machine-quilting embellishment from some of the song lyrics.

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‘January’ starts with my first piece of dyeing, onto which I wrote lines from the song “The Waters of Tyne” using acrylic ink before machine quilting.

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‘February’ is a combination of the January fabric with new dyed fabric before hand-quilting and adding glimpses of song lyrics cut from a larger, unseen, whole.

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‘March’ adds new calligraphy techniques, with italic script using an edged nib and indian ink. The lyrics are taken from the song “Felton Lonnin”.

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‘April includes pieces of all of the fabrics used before as well as a larger piece of rust-dyeing embellished with lyrics from “The Keel Row” using white drawing ink and tape nib calligraphy pen.

Now I wonder, where do I go from here for the next four?

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Antony Gormley: Another Place

As you cross over the dunes and first glimpse the beach, you pause

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wondering what caught the attention of the man standing so attentively on the shore. It is then you notice that it is an iron man, silently watching out over the sea. There is something deep-rooted which tugs at you as you watch these observers, some standing on the sand, others further out to sea. You wonder what they are looking for, what they might be thinking. You then realise you are standing staring at the horizon in the exact way the iron man is.

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These ironmen have a very different feel to those that were scattered briefly across the London skyline in 2007. Event Horizon, 31 iron men cast from Gormley’s own body and placed across city rooftops, coincided with his major exhibition Blind Light at the Hayward that summer. I was working at Somerset House at the time, and every morning I would see the statues peering out over the city looking at me. They were watchers. Out of place moments of silence in the incessant rush of the city; a figure where it did not belong.

But the men at Crosby Beach belong here.

They all look out in the same direction, feeling the salt winds rushing across the Irish sea and the daily rise and fall of the tide. Installed in 2005 and originally only meant as a temporary exhibition, the 100 ironmen of Crosby are becoming of-place. They have begun to gather local knowledge – the flow of the tidal waters across the sands, the ravages of the weather, the changing seasons. A constant slow evolution echoing our own nature.

Gormley said of the work: “…time is tested by tide, architecture by the elements, and the prevalence of sky seems to question the earth’s substance. In this work human life is tested against planetary time. This sculpture exposes to light and time the nakedness of a particular and peculiar body, no hero, no ideal, just the industrially-reproduced body of a middle-aged man trying to remain standing and trying to breathe, facing a horizon busy with ships moving materials and manufactured things around the planet.

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Crosby Beach itself is rapidly changing by nature; the flat stretch of sands see tides race in at a ferocious pace. You will never get the same view of the ironmen twice. The few people there when I visited each interacted with the ironmen differently. Some pausing to contemplate, others taking an obligatory selfie then walking on. This is perhaps the greatest benefit of public art: each of us can communicate with the work from within our own nature; it is not about comprehension of someone else’s ideology.

Gormley himself described the work as “a response to the individual and universal sentiments associated with emigration, sadness at leaving, but the hope of a new future in another place“. To me it spoke of the place man has within nature, as part of nature, our constantly evolving cycle through existence. Sometimes we must stand alone at the horizon to understand ourselves.

I look up from my notes and can almost feel myself holding my breath as the waves begin take the ironmen ahead of me under the surface.

The tide is coming in, it is time for me to move.

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The lure of the local

In the endless cycle of thinking and making, my making work continues to focus on looking at the haunted place as inspiration for a bunch of competition quilts I have on the go. I made the decision to try to make these as resolved pieces based on my MA project proposal, partly to further my research but also to try to reconnect with my practice after going down a dark rabbit hole over the last two terms.

As I alluded to a couple of times in previous posts, I have been looking at mark making with found materials from a particular place: trying to embody the genius loci within my work. So far, I have been experimenting with different processes for natural dyeing of plain unbleached calico. First was using materials found within half a mile of my front door: tree bark, dried leaves, willow ash, flower petals, steel wires. Here are a couple of examples:

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and the results of the psychogeographic ramble I had the other day:

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so! What next to do with all of these lovely bits of fabric?

Well, I have been considering what I now think of my research question – and how my interpretation of place and placelessness has changed so far. I have been taken by the idea of the local and how this relates to place. I believe that each place has multiple identities existing in the same space simultaneously, which each person (with their own multiple identities contained within their sense of self) interacts with differently based upon how they connect with the local knowledge. That local knowledge may be about memories of histories of the place itself, or it may be a completely distant narrative overlaid onto a new place, allowing you to connect your own ‘locality’ with a new alien place. This is how you can feel at home in a place you have never been. Lucy Lippard [1] offers the following:

“Inherent in the local is the concept of place – a potation of land/town/cityscape seen from the inside, the resonance of a specific location that is known and familiar…Place is the latitudinal and longitudinal within a person’s life. It is temporal and spatial, personal and political. A layered location replete with human histories and memories, place has a width as well as depth. It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there and what will happen there.”

Placelessness, then could be said to an inability to feel connected. Your locality, your local knowledge as it were, so alienated from the dominant narrative that it becomes meaningless. In his introductory book on place, Tim Cresswell [2] quotes the geographer Edward Relph who uses the language of authenticity to describe this connection with place.

“..”to be inside a place is to belong to it and identify with it, and the more profoundly inside you are the stronger is the identity with the place” (Relph 1976). At the opposite extreme, existential outsiderness involves the alienation from place which is the antithesis of the unreflective sense of belonging that comes from being an existential insider…..in the modern world, Relph argues that we are surrounded by a general condition of creeping placelessness marked by an inability to have authentic relationships to place, because the new placelessness does not allow people to become existential insiders….”placelessness that is a weakening of the identity of places to the point where that not only look alike and feel alike and offer the same bland possibilities for experience.”

On this subject of authenticity, Creswell goes on later in the book to quote geographer David Harvey:

“The issue of authenticity (rootedness) of the experience of place (and nature of place) is for example a difficult one. To begin with…the problem of authenticity is itself peculiarly modern. Only as modern industrialisation separates us from the press of production and we encounter the environment as a finished commodity does it emerge….The effort to evoke a sense of place and of the past is now often deliberate and conscious.”

This brought me back to question more deeply the work of Lucy Orta with the Genius Loci / spirits of place that were created to enshrine the story of a river, through sculptural form. What can be said of authenticity when deliberately enshrining the past through such an intervention? I have never really liked the direct personification of spirits (whether you think go spirits as an essence, a ghost or whatever else) as that’s not how I personally choose to interpret them. Nor do I think I want to make work specifically for a precise location. When I started this proposal I had wanted to create site-specific work and initially understood it as being quite literal – you take a place and make some work inspired by that place and for that place. I now am looking towards a more conceptual view of site-specific: work speaking of a place, using a connection from that place – but across the spectrum of spatial and temporal, literal and virtual. I will need to understand more on how this aligns with current thinking on site specific art.

Anyway, I think I digressed a little – back to what I am making. So the plan, is to work with my own understanding of the Genuis Loci and a sense of place, which I would capture as: We feel the essence of place as an echo of the earth, and we become the medium of the storytelling.

My first resolved piece is now done and waiting to be framed: Genius Loci I (Star field); here is a sneaky preview of the detail.

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[1] Lure of the Local, Lucy Lippard (1997)
[2] Place, a short introduction, Tim Crewell (2004)

Basketry identity | Cowey Sale to Sudbury Lock

A lovely day in the spring sushine down in Walton-on-Thames to visit the Basketmakers’ Association exhibition Basketry Identity at the Riverhouse gallery.

The Basketmakers Association are hosting this exhibition of members work. The pieces on display are a response to the maker’s idea about their ‘Basketry Identity’. The exhibition will show the wide range of materials and techniques used in the creation of both functional and artistic basketry. There will be an installation and various sculptural forms. The whole will reflect the great skill and diversity of basketmaking today.

The exhibits were indeed a range of the great diversity of basketmaking, from “traditional” willow, hazel, cane baskets to things which looked like baskets made from other materials, to basketry techniques applied to create pure contemporary artworks. Very much recommended if you are in the area. Some highlights in the slideshow!

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My photos (and my attention) were drawn to the more contemporary works and particularly those using paper. What I noticed from the other works, is how much reference to place there is in the work of the basketmakers both explicitly and implicitly. Makers mentioned where the fibre was grown (and occasionally who by), where the basketry technique came from or how experiences of a place inspired a particular work.

After the exhibition, since it was so lovely out I took myself onto the Thames Path which runs behind the gallery. I walked the section up from the Walton Bridge at Cowey Sale all the way up to Sudbury Lock. My new psychogeographic thinking hat got be wondering some interesting thoughts on the way – most noticeably how many different identities a place can have. Each of us creates our own place, even as we stand out on the same road looking at the same river.

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This picture shows what I mean – I’ve never been to Walton-on-Thames before, and was slightly surprised to find that barely 30mins from my flat is picture perfect riverside England. I know nothing about the area, so all I could do is overlay my own narratives which started to surface as you try to interpret the place you find yourself in. Here, the Thames is a completely different river to the waters which run through my suburb 24miles downstream. This riverside speaks quietly of old England – of straw hats, cricket and tea on the lawn. You can imagine the long winding journey through green rolling hillsides that the waters have taken, from the elderly ash tree under which old Father Thames sits smoking a pipe. The walk so much reminds me of my childhood. I see ghosts of myself sat on a river bank somewhere in Northumberland, dad knee deep in the water with a brightly coloured fly, barely seen, whipping in and out of the shadows. This was my place – and I could see its echo imprinted on the sight of a totally different town in a totally different geography, with people and stories I have never met. Returning home, a new story emerges: here the Tideway is a different creature altogether, one made of salt, steam and blood. The lower Thames’ dark and murky brackish waters have greased the wheels of industry since the days the Romans first settled on Ludgate Hill. I am still looking for my place here.

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The language of paradox

When is a duality not a duality at all? Why do we so often see a barrier between things which are in fact the same?

I had not intended on writing another post today, but a wealth of thoughts crystallised when I came across a statement by land artist, Chris Drury on how he describes himself: “he seeks to make connections between: Nature and Culture; Inner and Outer; Microcosm and Macrocosm.”

In his book Silent Spaces, Chris offers the following words on this topic:

“The edge is the division.
What is known is always from the past.
Through knowledge the new is a reworking of the old.
The sum total of knowledge is culture.
Culture is the veil through which we describe nature.
The process of nature continues despite our analysis.
Our analysis is part of the process of nature.
The process of nature must include the actions of man
whether or not they are destructive.
Man’s description of ‘nature’ as something separate –
out of town – where the edge is the division
between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, is an illusion.
‘Nature’ and ‘culture’ are the same thing.
There is no division.”

So I return to my initial question – why do we so quickly split ideas into black and white, only to ignore the wealth of shadows within? Why do we see ourselves as something separate when we are not? I have wondered what process creates the illusion of distinction, and from what viewpoint must we be standing in order to see beyond the pieces and glimpse the whole. Chris Durey talks more about dualities on his website, in particular around the concept of wave-particle duality, such as in Wave Particle from an exhibition in Norway in 2014.

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Chris states: “In Quantum Mechanics light is composed of either particles or waves depending on how the viewer sees it at the time – this is wave-particle duality.”

As one of the few artists who can attest to having had a career in quantum mechanics, this got me thinking about how knowledge and thought drive separations of ideas. As a first-order statement, light is indeed composed of particles or waves depending on how the viewer ‘sees it’ through their active intervention in the system. But this duality, when you look beneath into the beauty of the mathematics, is not really a duality at all. Light is particle-like and wave-like at the same time. These properties co-exist but cannot be distinguished as either one or the other – until an observer looks and tries to catch the cloud. This is also true of any other fundamental particle which exists in the universe. With my physics hat on, the language we use is of wave functions, of decoherence, quantisation and localisation – all matter is reduced to pure mathematical probabilities that we will find something (such as a particle) in any given place and time. This language (that of quantum field theory) removes all paradox from an apparent duality, but is highly dependent on understanding very specific knowledge.

Does this also stand true for other dualities? Nature – culture, mind – body, inside – outside….are these all paradoxical only when we do not have the knowledge and therefore the language, to describe how these are just states of one whole system?

I had been mulling over the inside / outside question while trying to finish off the basket I made at West Dean. Another mathematical paradox came to mind….

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….which was swiftly followed by a connection with the beautiful drawings of M C Escher. These have been in my mind around the ideas around place. These drawings capture impossible places – where any place is any other place. No start, no end, no distinctions – no-place?

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Thought for the day

A thought for the day from Chris Durey, Land artist:

“A wave does not in itself exist, it is a movement made by water
Wind does not in itself exist, it is a movement of air
Mind itself does not exist, it is a movement of thought
When there is no wind, there are no waves on the lake,
which becomes a mirror reflecting land and sky
When thought dies away, the mind is a mirror of the universe”

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Psychogeography: deciphering the dérive

I have been working more with my idea of the haunted place. I wanted to see how I interpreted the idea of making something “site-specific” before researching what others mean by this term. I started by directly using materials which are sourced from within a specific area in order to make impressions / marks / imprints which capture the feeling of the genius loci (spirits of place). Progress going ok so far with this, I currently have a range of samples of natural dyed calico which are in various stages of steeping and drying. There are a number of artists who work by using materials which they find in situ – either directly (such as land artists Richard Long or Chris Durey) or for mark marking (Helen Goodwin).

I thought I would take this idea one step further and look into the idea of capturing the genius loci and “site-specific-materials” from psychogeographic inspired urban wandering – or dérive. In a location where one feels placeless – without belonging or connection with the surroundings – understanding the place through experiencing it is perhaps a first step to gaining a new narrative. The basic ideas of psychogeography are somewhat ambigous, with various people describing it as confusing, nonsensical, or only understood in the mind of the psychogeographer. Well, before I tried it out myself, I thought at least it worth an understanding of a little history.

Historically, Guy Debord defined Psychogeography in 1955 as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” This history along with the writings of Monsieur Debord are tied up with the radical mid-20th century Situationists who were heavily influenced by Marxism, surrealism, Dadaism and revolutionary architecture. Monsieur Debord was the founder of Situationist International he (and others) gave psychogeography much intellectual theory and discourse. Martin Coverley offers the following expansion, that psychogeography is “…reflecting a wider awareness of ‘spirit of place’ through which landscape, whether urban or rural, can be imbued with a sense of the histories of previous inhabitants and the events that have been played out against them…This visionary continuity is described as a ‘chronological resonance’ and is the point at which place, history and identity converge…”[1]

The landscape outside of the city is easier to understand and relate to places from a deep, sort of tribal like human perspective. The sea, sky and earth as raw elements are much neater than than the horizonless place of the cityscape, with people, history, stories, buildings, vehicles, commerce, past, future and present overlapping in an endless motion of change. Psychogeography apparently offers a way to explore this challenge and see the unseen, harnessing the unintentional. “a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities… just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.” [2]

This quote refers to the practice of urban wandering developed by the situationists from the concept of the flâneur from the poetry of Charles Baudelaire; the “man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street.” The practice is the dérive, a technique of an unplanned journey through varied ambiences (usually urban), letting go of your everyday identity and allowing yourself be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters you find there.

So if you can only understand through practice, I decided to go out on my own dérive to see what I would find without any preconceived plan – just a camera and a carrier bag. I printed off a street map of the area directly around my house and randomly drew a circle on it, then wandered off to try to walk that circle as closely as possible – going round any obstacles I found in my way. This is the record of the wandering:

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Finally, as I was going I picked up a few things found left on the pavement which caught my attention, each with its on story; why was there a seashell tucked into the gravel at the side of the railway embankment?

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I have to say I thought it a fascinating experience and notably different from an ordinary stroll. I think you do notice things you wouldn’t otherwise see when you allow your mind and feet to wander away. Perhaps there are some elements of the local genius loci in there as well. My next plan is to take the things I collected and make something, perhaps also using them to imprint another piece of my plain calico stash.

References: 

[1] Psychogepgraphy, Martin Coverley
[2] http://www.utne.com/community/a-new-way-of-walking.aspx https://adcochrane.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/psychogeography-and-how-it-can-help-you/
https://libcom.org/thought/situationists-an-introduction
http://newleftreview.org/II/8/peter-wollen-situationists-and-architecture