Monthly Archives: September 2015

Desire Line – finished experiment

After a couple of days of weaving the ideas I had got into calligraphy drawings directly into corn, I have now completed a finished test piece! This is the first piece so far that has been properly made with my project concept embedded into both the material and the form. The basket I did for the interim show was communicative materially (even if using maps was a literal interpretation of place), however I made a ‘basket’ shape (a bowl in other words) for lack of any other ideas.

I have to say I am very pleased with how this has come out – I am happy with that it has come out the way I intended. I didn’t pre-plan the exact structure, only the principles I wanted to express in the form, letting serendipity and the nature of the straws guide the way the weaving progressed. I think it may be nice hung in mid-air, but lacking the facilities to do that in my home studio, this is the piece on the wall.
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The artist as cartographer

I have come to realise the ideas behind my experiments on Desire Lines are related to the idea of the traces of travellers passing through time and space – memories, footprints linking past and present, real and virtual. This is also an idea around mapping, although not as literal as the ‘tactile maps’ as representation of a real space that Poy and I are looking at in the collaboration project. For both pieces of work, I thought it useful to capture a few random thoughts I’ve had so far:

“Mapping denotes a process that takes place every time a map of any kind is created – a drawing scribbled on the back of an envelope, a sequence of places or events etched in one’s memory…or a projection prepared by a team of professional cartographers. The environment to be mapped encompasses both the immediate, physical often urban surroundings in which we walk, our own actions and perceptions as pedestrians and the cultural or ideological filter through which we view this experience.” [1]

For my own work I don’t just want a map to be the outcome of a walk in a physical or imagined space, but also the method by which to create it. The situationists worked like this, creating maps to highlight “psychogeographical contours” or “articulations” of the modern city. They described the “constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones. [2] The situationists through the experience of the dérive, imagined an art which resembled architecture. Walking structures experience; we perceive ourselves and our environment in interaction as we walk along the path. We shape the space as we go.

The idea Poy and I have for our collaboration project is to each create a tactile map based on a walk in two places – a walk from our house front door into our everyday supermarket. My walk I know very well but will be new to Poy, and vice versa for me walking in Poy’s neighbourhood. What difference in mapping will we see between the known place and the new place?

“The stumbling block for people who are familiar with an area is a selective gaze that ignores everything but what is necessary for the task at hand. We see only what we expect to see.” [1, p5]

Yoko ono (1962) has a deceptively simple approach to looking at places which have become too familiar:

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Maps are not just of physical places we see with our eyes either – looking at the idea of cognitive maps, sort of like a journey through a memory palace, gives us the idea of structuring and storing spatial information. According to neuroscience we visualise our physical environment in turns of shapes and relationships [1, p112]. A cognitive map is an embodied map – Merleau-Ponty asked “is not to see to see from somewhere?”

There is a fascinating history of pre-lierate navigational methods across the world which include ideas around cognitive mapping. I came across the idea of the dreaming tracks, or songlines, of the indiegenous Australians, which is a fusion of navigation, myth, storytelling and place-making,

“In Aboriginal mythology, a songline is a myth based around localised ‘creator-beings’ during the Dreaming, the indigenous Australian embodiment of the creation of the Earth. Each songline explains the route followed by the creator-being during the course of the myth. The path of each creator-being is marked in sung lyrics. One navigates across the land by repeating the words of the song or re-enacting the story through dance, which in the course of telling the story also describe the location of various landmarks on the landscape (e.g. rock formations, watering holes, rivers, trees)….Songlines often came in sequences, much like a symphony or album today. By singing a song cycle in the appropriate order could navigate vast distances, often travelling through the deserts of Australia’s interior” [3]

Richard Long often uses the idea of toponyms in his work to describe the specific qualities of the places he travels in (although never sung as far as I know!). “It is literally the same stones and the same surfaces of the world that people have always walked over and used. All the place names are like layers of history and different cultures. My work is just another layer on the surface of the world that has been shared by all these different generations, so it’s really about continuity”. [4]

References 

[1] Karen O’Rourke, Walking and Mapping
[2] Guy Debord, Theory of the Derive
[3] http://basementgeographer.com/songlines-how-indigenous-australians-use-music-to-mark-geography/
[4] Richard Long, No Where

Desire Line

With the bits of test corn weaving I have been doing, I had an idea about combining them together into a sculptural piece. I came up with a mock up construction using the three pieces of weaving.

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Now I want to try to make a coherent, well-finished sample – and not just shove things together, so I thought I would take some more time to see how I want the form to look. I had been doing some line sketches in my note book based on the idea behind this piece (now under the title Desire Line). This is based on the idea of the local path (our individual movements) as an echo of a larger, deeper human drive and ‘universal path’. I got thinking about how in my head I see this as a overlay of different paths (past, present and future) all condensing into a single moment as we pass along the way.

So, some more considered drawings:

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I think what I need to do is ensure the finished piece is all one continuous, connected flow of weaving – it needs to be one path and many paths at the same time. (Not in other words, made by winding the pieces round each other and hoping no-one moves it). I will need do some tests on how to combine the different weaves together – as interlocking or intersecting – before moving on.

Pleased with my thought process so far though, I definitely have taken Sandya’s farewell words to heart: OWN IT, FOCUS, BELIEVE, LEAD YOUR OWN PROJECT

London Design Festival @ the V&A

The V&A have had a number of special displays on during this year’s London Design Festival and I spent a sunny day there on Friday checking them out. There were a few which really caught my attention.

First, The Tower of Babel, by Barnaby Barford (the visiting tutor from last year, who I still think gave me the most important insight I’ve had on this entire course). The Tower is made from 3000 unique china shops, showing a real London shop which was photographed by the artist. I didn’t notice when looking, but apparently at the base the shops are derelict, while at its pinnacle are the crème-de-la-crème of London’s exclusive boutiques and galleries.

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Next, and by far and away the stand out piece for me from the Design Festival this year, was
The Ogham Wall. Made by Grafton Architects and concrete experts Graphic Relief, this installation was created under the theme: ‘Liminal – Irish design at the threshold.’

Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects said that “we wanted to create something with an architectural presence that doesn’t establish a boundary.” The blurb from LDF reads as follows:

Inspired by the Irish Ogham alphabet, which dates from around the 4th century, The Ogham Wall interprets letters from this ancient language as an architectural construct of three-metre-high cast concrete ‘fins’. A central linear element brings order to the installation, with an arrangement of smaller perpendicular and angled fins projecting off it to create an abstract rendering of each letter. “The Ogham script looks very architectural – like the plan for a colonnade – and we were interested in exploring that idea and translating this series of letters into architectural elements,” say Grafton Architects. Each Ogham letter traditionally references the name of a species of tree and Grafton Architects have worked with Graphic Relief to cast magnified and abstracted tree -bark patterns into the fins. The result is a tactile surface that references the richly textured tapestries in the room, and is described by Grafton as “man-made geology that is beautiful to touch and to look at”.

This piece was stunning to look at, particularly in the setting of the dimly lighted, rather grand Tapestry Gallery at the V&A. It is a lovely display of material memory of the trees being imprinted directly into the concrete casting. Aside from the fact I like language inspired work anyway (and I do actually know how to carve/write Ogham!) this spoke so nicely of the point of materiality I’ve been working with lately.

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Finally, the last mention goes to the Curiosity Cloud, which was a interactive installation which celebrates moments in nature and how people interact with the natural world. A few hundred glass globe things hanging from the ceiling, each containing a single hand-fabricated insect which co,e to life as the visitors come near them. It was actually quite playful and delightful, which is a refreshing change from all of the ‘serious’ work you see around.

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The Collaboration Project

Before the summer we were tasked with joining forces with one of the other MADM students to work on a short ‘collaboration project’. The aim is to show us the advantages and methods for working in a creative collaboration. I paired up with Poy, an architect turned designer who is looking into a concept very closely aligned to mine – that of memory and nostalgia in relation to places we have been.

We were asked to put together the objectives of the project:

  1. Knowledge: seeking to gain an understanding of a specific sub-question aligned to my project, looking at the nature of the map; what different methods of cartography can express locality?
  2. Skill: seeking to gain an ability to work directly with someone else to critique ideas and challenge my concepts; looking to gain additional working methodologies or ideas on creative problem solving
  3. Attitude: seeking to gain a better conception of what it is like to work in a creative collaboration and be more willing to share and work on art ideas in a group setting;

So now to work! We have an initial concept we have been thinking about individually over the summer break. I want to look at what is a map and Poy wants to understand how we react to a new place the first time we experience it. This gives us a great synergy in actually doing some live action creative cartography – looking to ‘map’ both a new and a familiar place.

Poy showed me a link to these amazing tactile maps made in Inuit communities.

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A great extract here from a paper by Peter Whitridge on the significance of place-making in relation to the Inuit maps.

Human spatialities are every-where complex and heterogeneous, at each historical moment articulating embodied actors with a simultaneously symbolic, social, and biophysical world. Place is regarded here as the effect of a general movement of thought and practice that imbricates the real and the representational at complexly layeredsites, and along heterogeneous seams. The investment of particular locations with meaning (place-making) is a ubiquitous social and cognitive process. Lookingmore closely at the archaeologically and ethnographically well-described Inuit case, networks of places and paths can be discerned at a host of spatial scales, from the vast expanses of the arctic landscape and sea ice to the intricate topologies of houses, bodies, and tools. Homologies, however fragmentary, between these toposemantic arenas point to a eld of circulation of representations that can be labelled the imaginary”, and its regional networks “imaginaries”. A place can be thought of as a spatialized imaginary, a nexus of imaginary signications at the site of its intersection with the real. 

Landscapes, Houses, Bodies, Things: “Place”and the Archaeology of Inuit Imaginaries
Peter Whitridge

Anyway, this is at the root of our idea to create a tactile map which documents our experiences of new and familiar places, showing how we respond to the subtleties in the place. We are going to do some tests on deciding the form of our final map-object (although we have decided it will be 3D) and then off to conduct our psychogeographic expeditions.

James Turrell Lightscapes

After an eight hour round trip across the country with LL just to see James Turrell’s Lightscapes exhibition, I was pleased that every second in the car was well spent. This collection of Turrell’s pieces is currently being shown in Houghton Hall, Norfolk in the grand house built in 1720 for Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister (oh, didn’t you know that either?).

James Turrell is preoccupied with the medium of light, and how we perceive (and apprehend) light and space. His works is grounded in mathematics and perceptual psychology, and having now experienced his work first hand – can be described as bordering somewhere between psychedelic and transcendental.

He once said, that the goal of the art process was not to turn an experience into art, but to “set up a situation to which I take you and let you see. It becomes your experience.” [1]. This is so unbelievably true with Turrell’s work, more so than any other artist or installation I have come across before.

The current owner of Houghton Hall is a bit of a Turrell fan, and (as you do) has two of Turrell’s pieces permanently on display in the rather beautiful spacious grounds around the house. The work in the photo above is Skyspace, an example of one of the enclosed viewing chambers which affect your perception of the sky. The open roof, is a deep, intense blue which looks like a solid sky painted on the ceiling – until you see a cloud or a bird fly by. You go back outside and suddenly the sky seems free again and immaterial – reality seems to be just a trick of the light.

It’s impossible to photograph Turrell’s work to do it any justice, and some of his pieces such as his ‘Tall Glass’ piece Shrim (2015), we just stared at captivated. While we were looking at Shrim, A couple of teenagers bounced into the room to look at the coloured plate on the wall then turned and went out again. LL and I continued to watch, and realised that the shapes and colours (so fuzzy and indistinct I thought I had taken my glasses off for a moment) were gradually cycling in and out, so slowly it was like staring to watch the moon climbing over the sky.

A few of my photos which (although not perfect) give you some idea:

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Enzu, Green (1968)

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Raethro, Red (1969)

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First Light (1989-90)

The last piece we saw was the second of the two permanent features in the estate: St. Elmo’s Breath, known as a Space Division Construction. This is housed in an old watertower and is a standout piece. You are guided into a completely darkened room (which I tell you is not fun for a claustrophobic who is scared of pitch black darkness). You experience what seems to be an endless, fuzzy darkness, until very gradually, a gentle muted colour field reveals itself from the walls of the room. After about 20 minutes the fuzz clears and your eyes finally allow you to see not only the panels on the walls in front of you, but the shapes of the other people around you. Quite something.

As a final cherry on the exhibition cake, we also spotted a Richard Long sculpture (one of a handful of permanent contemporary sculptures that are on the site). This piece, Full Moon Circle interacts with the surroundings in a fascinating way. Overall, a great day out.
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References:

  1. J. Turrell, Mapping Spaces, Peter Blum, New York, NY, 1987

More corn weaving

Autumn is setting now and the sunny days are turning more frequently to rain, the long evenings into longer nights. It seems perfectly appropriate to be working with the raw materials of this summer’s harvest in making experiments capturing a place and moment in time.

After my first set of weaving experiments with the beautiful Maris Widgeon wheat, I decided there was enough potential in the material to do more. The wheat is grown and harvested in Staffordshire using traditional methods using no artificial fertilisers. The wheat is sown during the first week of October and is cut in late July, around 2 weeks before it is fully ripe, while there is still a hint of green in the stem, and the ears are erect. The sheaves are air dried by hanging them upside down.

For the next set of experiments I wanted to continue to test different traditional weaves but apply them in different ways. First was a number of traditional plaited weaves: a 7-strand flat braid and a compass plait.

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I plan to make a few more strips of this nature and then experiment with pulling them together into a form inspired by the pictures in my last post and my current favourite quotation:

“Where people live is both local and universal, both particular to the individual and particular to everyone…the path…is both a very particular place…and also a universal path, like all other paths”
(Malpas 2007, p78)

I also wanted to start making the finish a bit more shiny, to make sure the experiments move from samples to ‘finished’ test pieces. I know this is going to be increasingly important as we inch closer to the assessment and Unit 2. This next weave was a repeat of the 5-strand spiral plait I did a few weeks ago with more care taken with the finish. I will take this and form it into a more complete piece once it has dried fully.

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Liking this material. Curious as to how mixing corn with the steel cables would be.

Contemporary basketmakers

Baskets have a natural ability both to occupy and contain space, with an interplay between inside and outside. Traditionally they were made in response to a need: to separate, to contain, to protect, to transport. Traditionally, baskets were also made from the natural materials the basketmaker had to hand – local woods, vegetations, plants. The materials of the maker’s place became the materials of the techniques used and developed.

This history is one of the main reasons I think exploring a range of basketry techniques is so suited to my project proposal. The weaving allows you to make your own fabric, which makes your own surfaces.

I have been looking into the work of some contemporary basket makes, pulling out those who I find resonate with my aesthetic, techniques or concept. Here are a few of the best I have come across so far.

John Garrett

“Beyond its utilitarian functions of holding, storing and serving, the basket is a decorative object, a status symbol and a ceremonial object.  I draw on these abundant traditions in making my work”

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Rachel Max

“My work investigates the relationships between interior and exterior spaces, especially hidden, secret spaces, and the intrigues or barriers that are often created.”

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Stella Harding 

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Lorraine Gilmore

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It hasn’t escaped my attention that all of these examples are really strong with their use of line and all have an interesting tension between space and surface. Twisting, wrapping, open weaves – all allowing the inside space and outside space to flow between each other.

What is place and space?

Place and space, two terms used so commonly and casually by most people, are remarkably challenging concepts to define. Space tends to be thought of in the abstract, an infinite, continuous expanse – from the vastness of the cosmos to the depths of the mental space in which we think. Place on the other hand, is bounded and local. It is defined by a human narrative and experience; it is a material demonstration of some social practice, or a memory of such, which marks it out from other spaces. It is a place to which we feel we belong.

Anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu was one of the first scholars to discuss the understanding of space through meaning and action, rather than strictly in structural terms. He argued that space has no meaning apart from practice – actions which interact to define and reinforce cultural knowledge and social behaviours. This system of generating dispositions, habitus, “constitutes and is constituted by actors’ movements though space” (Bourdieu 1984). This in turn means that the interpretation of space can not be fixed, as it is the social practices of the actors within the space who provide the spatial meaning.

Also on this line of thinking, Henri Lefebvre in the Production of Space (1991), proposed that space is socially produced, rather than being a pre-existing volume or environment. He described a tripartite division between material space (that which is experienced through our primary sense perceptions via human practices), the representation of space (spaces as we conceive them through language, maps, diagrams, concepts or codes), and spaces of representation (space as lived – physically, affectively, emotionally through imagination, dreams, fears).

David Harvey, whose social critique builds on the same Marxist theory as Lefebvre, offers a more comprehensive framework to define space, using Lefebvre’s tripartite division as one dimension, and offers a second dimension of another three co-existing definitions of space and time (Harvey 2005). First, absolute space and time, a mathematical reference location which identifies the individuality and uniqueness of every person, thing and process that has ever, or will ever exist. This is the space of Newtonian Mechanics and Euclidean spaces – with all events measurable and predictable. The second definition is of relative space, where space and time cannot be understood separately – the space-time of relativistic physics, and non-Euclidean geometries. These are the spaces of process and motion (a journey, an exchange of information), where what is observed varies according to what is relativised and by whom. All forms of measurement (including observation itself) depend upon the frame of reference of the observer. The third and final definition is relational space, where meaning is attached to space through interaction and memory. Space and time are internalised within matter and process, in other words, the process itself produces its own space and time.

Harvey goes on to ask, “how do can we understand things, events and processes in terms of the relational spacetime they produce?”. Harvey offers that any event, thing or process cannot be solely understood by what exist at a single point in space and time. An object may be understood to crystallise out of a field of flows into “an event”. The object is formed of everything within that field of flows from all past, present and future events. Identify becomes multiple and indeterminate and direct measurement impossible. Influences flow from everywhere to everywhere else.

This conjecture is based upon the writings of British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead rejected the idea that an object has a single, simple spatial or temporal location. Instead, he concluded that all objects should be understood as fields which have both a spatial and temporal extension. He surmised that the ‘absolute’ point in space-time that we can conceive is in fact a simplified abstraction, arrived at as a limit of a series of volumes (like an infinite series of nested Russian dolls). “In a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times. For every location involves an aspect of itself in every other location. Thus every spatio-temporal standpoint mirrors the world” (Whitehead 1925, p114). Whitehead elaborates this line of thinking by concluding that it is process, rather than substance, that is the most fundamental metaphysical constituent of the world.

At the core of Whitehead’s metaphysics are many ideas which are contrary to the traditional view of material substance. In Western scientific cosmology, matter is a senseless, purposeless material which follows a fixed set of reactions when acted upon by external relations, which do not emerge from the nature of its being. According to Whitehead, the recognition that the world is organic rather than materialistic is essential for anyone wanting to develop a comprehensive account of nature. “Mathematical physics presumes in the first place an electromagnetic field of activity pervading space and time. The laws which condition this field are nothing else than the conditions observed by the general activity of the flux of the world, as it individualises itself in the events. The result is that nature is no longer thought to be simply atoms in the void, but instead a structure of evolving processes. The reality is the process”. (As quoted in Irvine 2015).

If we question what is the space of an immaterial object (such as an experience, a thought or memory), then it is seemingly impossible to offer a concrete, material answer. There is no absolute point in space and time to reference, nor any way to quantify and measure the space relative to something else. The ideas of relational space offer a way to describe the immaterial. We must consider all of the things, events, processes and social practices that have produced this specific place in spacetime.

References

Bourdieu, Pierre, 1984. Distinction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Harvey, David. 2005. “Spacetime and the World”, in Cosmopolitanism & Geographies of Freedom. New York: Columbia University Press, pp 135-165

Irvine, Andrew David, “Alfred North Whitehead”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/whitehead/>.

Lefebvre, Henri, 1991. The Production of Space, trans Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell.

Whitehead, Alfred North. 1925. Science and the Modern World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

One for the rook, one for the crow

One of the things I have started to realise about last year’s array of experiments is how much I have struggled to really understand the materials. Not from a practical point of view (I have been able to functionally use them), but more in finding a medium which speaks of what I think it does. In my quilting work, you used cotton because that’s what you do. Even in art quilting, materials are nearly always used because of their aesthetics or textile qualities and nothing more. Few ask why we use fabric in the first place. If you consider the supply chain, woven cotton cloth is a long way down from it’s pure raw materials. Now this isn’t an issue in itself – but if you begin your making with cotton, you inherit the associations that come with it: the history of production, female craft traditions and so on.

For my current research project, this discussion so many layers down the production process is a distraction from my concept. I think I saw this even back in the Spring term, when I started the experiments with making silk paper and spinning maps (See this post: Making my own Fabric), even though the approach was still a bit random as to what materials I picked to use. I knew I wanted my own fabric / my own fibres.

So where does that bring me to now?  Well, I am looking at materials which “are having the right conversation” with my project context. I’ve already experimented with steel wires (which although processed, they are still essentially a raw material), old maps – which come with a complex but relevant context. I like both of these, but since there is a little unit 1 time left to experiment, I thought I would look a little beyond them…after all, the symbology using old maps to represent place is a little obvious. A first order solution as you might say!

This brings me back to a very interesting place – natural fibres again. My proposal and essay (which is coming along nicely) have been looking at the concepts of locality and universality, and keeps coming back to the idea of local materials and what that means. So I have come back to an old idea using a rather interesting natural fibre: corn

A brief diversion…………………………………………………………….

Brief history of the corn dolly

The most famous use of the craft of corn weaving is undoubtedly the corn dolly. When early man exchanged the nomadic life as a hunter-gatherer for a settled, farming community based existence, they believed that that the success of labour on the land was highly dependent on various deities who would oversee the cycles and fruitfulness of the crops. To this end, various rituals would be held to propitiate his gods: this is true of civilisations all over the world, particularly where cereal crops are concerned. Wheat is one of the first cereals known to have been domesticated, and archaeological records suggest that this first occurred in the regions known as the Fertile Crescent in the Near East, and the Nile Delta.

So even into comparatively modern times, wherever cereal crops are grown, the underlying legend of a Corn Spirit or Goddess of the harvest still remained: it was thought that the Corn Spirit retreated before the oncoming reapers at harvest time, taking refuge in the last of the standing corn. The last sheaf would be cut and made into a receptacle in which the Spirit could rest during the winter. This was the corn dolly (or cailleach or corn maiden depending on where you live!). In the spring, the corn dolly, along with the corn spirit contained within it, would be returned to the fields and ploughed back into the soil with the new planting. By giving the Corn Spirit a home during the dark winter months, it was hoped to ensure that the forthcoming crop would be a bounteous one and bring blessings and prosperity to the local community.

Most of the evidence for this ritual activity comes from anthropologists, including the infamous James George Frazer who wrote the well known work The Golden Bough. A lot of scholars note the gloss which Frazer used in romanticising England’s pagan history. However true the long history of the harvest fertility rituals, by the time we reached the 19th / 20th century, a corn dolly was generally said to be ‘for luck’. Any deeper significance was long forgotten. Irrespective of this is it is ancient worldwide tradition. Due to the fact the dolly was generally only kept for the winer, you generally don’t see corn dollies in museums and the like. There are some hanging in churches decades old – apparently Martinho Church has a corn dolly from 1897 hanging there still.

With the changes in harvesting methods as a result of the Industrial Revolution, the craft was almost completely lost in Europe by the mid-1900s. From about the 1960s, the craft saw a revival, although mostly for tourist souvenirs.

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For weaving you need to use a hollow stemmed straw, which you only get from a specific variety of corn. I managed to find a local craftswoman who offers this beautiful stuff: Maris Widgeon wheat, a winter variety planted last October, and harvested this summer.

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I rather like the ritual associations (obviously) but don’t want to make that the focus of using it. I want to use this as an example of a material which sits ambiguously in the local / universal box. Most cultures on earth have some grain harvest tradition, making this type of material practically universal in its reach and importance to society. However, the growing and use of the grain is the epitome of locality – grown, harvested, ground and baked into bread – surely one of the most fundamental acts that we had in this country?

For the moment, I’m playing to see what the material can do – looking at different basket forms and weaving techniques to see what has potential. These were my first experiments:

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