Monthly Archives: March 2016

Re-visiting thread installations

Maiko said she felt the beauty of the map string may be being diluted through the construction of the weaving, turning the piece into just a representation of the landscape and not much more. So, let’s take the extreme case: what if I don’t do any weaving at all?

There could be something more subtle and more ‘pure’ perhaps in making an installation directly with the map strings. Universal stories of physical places transformed and twisted into long paths. Each string perhaps a different place which is part of my sense of self (those places I choose to be). Then I can overlay my personal stories onto them through poetry or some constructed visual language?

I went back through some of the inspirations on this type of installation which I had come across before in previous fibre art research, to see if any new conclusions could be drawn, and came across the work of Anne Lindberg. Her practice has been described as a drawing language (which is what immediately attracted me to her, back when I was doing a lot of my abstract drawings). She creates installations and 2D drawings that are both abstract and immersive acting as “a mirror of how [she] experiences the world”.

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Anne states that her “sculpture and drawings inhabit a non-verbal place resonant with such primal human conditions. Systemic and non-representational, these works are subtle, rhythmic, abstract, and immersive. I find beauty and disturbance through shifts in tool, layering and material to create passages of tone, density, speed, path and frequency within a system”.

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She describes her work as a kind of self-portraiture. “Within the quiet reserve and formal abstraction is a strong impulse to speak from a deep place within myself about that is private, vulnerable, fragile, and perceptive to the human condition. My work is a mirror of how I experience the world, and as I negotiate physicality, optics and ideas through drawing languages, my voice withholds, blurs, teases and veils. I frequently return to subtle distinctions between drawing as noun and verb as a long held focus in my studio practice. This blurred distinction drives my fascination with an expanded definition of drawing languages and the resurgence of drawing in contemporary art. My collective body of work is an iteration of this language.”

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Looking back over my work from the last two years (although so much of it has been confused), you can still see the predominance of my love for the line. This was where I started back with the dimensionality project, thread drawings and then moving onto my first experiments in basketry. Perhaps this is a natural place for me to end up? The question is however, will I have enough time to resolve a new idea – or is this new idea in fact just a resolution of everything which has come before?

 

Writing on the Wall

Luckily, I managed to get to chat to Maiko on the last day of term on my concerns and options for moving forward with my final show work. We talked on a couple of different points: (i) the use of material and technique, (ii) what the work is communicating, (iii) the ongoing importance of the words/text in my practice

Point (ii) is perhaps the most critical, and based on the group crit of my show work, perhaps the one which is the most illusive. Once again returning to my project objectives, I remind myself that I wanted to communicate:

…the concept of self, by examining the subjective reality we construct as we experience the world. By unravelling our sense of self as strands of multiple co-exisiting identities, I am looking at how these strands are built from places which become part of us through our lives. Shadows of real and imagined places embed themselves into the self, an interconnection of experience, memory and fiction. These shadows haunt us as we pass through the spaces of the world, generating belonging, displacement, familiarity or isolation. 

The map weaving has communicated only a single aspect of this idea – that of the real places which are part of my constructed identity. However the fundamental idea of self and the overall feeling of connection or disconnection from the world, is completely obscured from the outside viewer. How then to reveal this?

My first step, has been to consider point (iii) above. Words are clearly so important to me, could I use this as a way of expressing the personal into the more objective ‘universal’ experience of place: If so, how do I want to incorporate text and words into my work? As a label / title only? As a book or accompanying text alongside the sculpture? Or part of the materiality of the weaving itself? As you will have seen if you have been following my progress, I have tried a number of different experiments of including text quite literally as part of the weaving materials. None of these have worked for me at all – which is why I had settled on the idea of doing a book alongside the weavings. So what other options are there out there?

Book Notes: Writing on the Wall, Simon Morley (Thames & Hudson 2003)

I started first with this book, which looks at modern art which combines both word and image. As I would prefer if my words are part of the core aspect of my work (rather than just an ‘aside’ as a label might be perceived as), this seemed like a good place to start.

Morley offers that a work with both word and image engages the viewer in two distinct modes: “one involving the visual scanning of the image and the other the reading of the words. The former mode allows for openness of interpretation and the freedom of mental and sensual movement, while the latter confines the reader to a predetermined route constructed from a horizontal row of letters to be deciphered”. Indeterminacy of meaning is important as ‘misunderstanding creates distance’; texts introduce a reflexive dimension by being both discursive and semantically ambiguous.

Four different kinds of interaction between the visual and the verbal sign can be identified:

  • Trans-medial relationship – word and work are connected by superposition, the one is essentially a supplement to the other. Implies a hierarchy where the text remains subordinate to the image (or vice versa).
  • Multi-medial: word and image coexist more closely, sharing the same space though remaining clearly distinguished in terms of spatial relations and kinds of intelligibility. For example, the text being used to tie down the specific meaning of an image
  • Mixed media: word and image have less intrinsic coherence and are only minimally separated from each other, having been enfolded, decanted or scrambled into each other’s customary domain.
  • Inter-media: recognition of the visual, material side of letters (and of the performative and sensory dimension to the act of writing).

Increasingly the inter-medial relationship has also come to signify much more than the melding of the visual and the verbal, into the integration of diverse spaces, movements and sounds [a multi-sensory experience]. Thus such a “total work of art” operates within a vastly expanded field of communication and information. 

Resisting legibility 

In reading this book, I could see clearly that my asemic calligraphy work fits clearly into the inter-media category. Utilising a desire to engage with “a topographic space”, i.e. a space in which writing is severed from its role as a mere verbal description and is experienced instead as a verbal and visual phenomenon. Expressionism like this makes use of the word’s materiality (the way in which meaning is constituted by the physical arrangement of letters on the page).

Morley comments that there are two poles of the phenomenon of writing: 

  • legibility, discursive communication and the mind
  • illegibility, direct unmediated communication and the pulse of the body

Handwriting, as distinguished from pure typography, printing and so on, has a raw visceral nature, which Morley describes as “an original, personal and expressive outburst”.

For example: Cy Twombly (1971)

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and Susan Hiller (Elan, 1982) where “language breaks free”

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Concrete Poetry 

The next concept which caught my attention in the book, is that of the desire to expand the conventional notion of language and its relationship to other less easily coded experiences. Morley gave reference to the word works of walking artists such as Richard Long and Hamish Fulton, who both try to encapsulate a very personal experience of place within a representation to be viewed in abstract in the gallery space. Photography and words are their medium here, the poetry in the titles or descriptions providing the power to personalise the view.

Wind through the Pines 1985, 1991 by Hamish Fulton born 1946

Wind through the Pines 1985, 1991 Hamish Fulton born 1946 Purchased 1993 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P77621

Fellow ‘land artist’ Robert Smithson also used a combination of words and place, but resisted the use of text as ‘just’ a simple vehicle for ideas, instead drawing contradictions inherent in the word as both  signifier and signified, meaning and thing. He is reported to have said “look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void”.

The text work of Long and Fulton is often bracketed as concrete poetry (Fulton in particular), that which is neither poetry nor visual art, but rather a fusion of the two. Morley however dominantly covers only two-dimensional forms, which the exception of the well known 3D poetry sculpture of Iain Hamilton Finlay. In many of these works, along with much conceptual art of the 1960’s and 70’s, the words and their meanings are the main material of the work – just think of all of the neon signs and de-materialised works with words plastered on gallery walls. Morley highlighted some works, which although made out of a physical material with its own narrative, still use words to convey some concept or message. For example, the below work from Tracey Emin (Mad Tracey from Margate, Everyone’s Been There, 1997) uses a material which speaks very strongly: in this case, of the so-called ‘feminine’ craft traditions of sewing, applique (and according to Morley of the domestic and amateurish). 

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Multi-sensory experiences 

However, I don’t want to just make words from other materials, so what more can be said about sculpture involving both text and some other physical material with its own ‘readable’ poetic narrative? The fusion of different materials – different visual languages – must sit together side by side, complementary or contradictory depending on the message being communicated.

I had been toying with the idea of doing a larger-scale installation off and on throughout the course and this also seems to be one of the most interesting ways of combining visual languages within the one work. Starting with a literal use of poetry on top of another medium: Francie Hester and Lisa Hill (2016)

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Digital words add a whole new scope of possibilities to a work. Morley poetically describes this medium as a “zero-dimensional virtual reality blurring the boundaries between the physical and the virtual, time and space, mind and matter, the natural and the mechanical”. I rather like this idea, and how it naturally gives a multi-layered experience of the work to your audience. 

Examples of poetry projected directly onto the landscape, although literal, the history and narrative of the place adds extra layers of meaning onto the work (by Double Take Projections).

And another text projection mapping example from Phillipp Geist, whose projects are characterised by their complexity and the integration of the location, the sound and moving images. “In his video mapping installations, he avoids using canvasses and turns diverse architectures in moving, painterly light sculptures, which challenge the onlookers’ perception of two- and three-dimensionality”.

Crit on work-in-progress show

The work in progress show closed yesterday, leaving the next show on the calendar as our graduating summer show…Arg!

We had a couple of opportunities for feedback before taking down our work, firstly from a group crit during the morning, and then from visitors at the show closing party after hours. Slightly mixed feelings about my feedback. I heard at least three sets of visitors comment on my work saying it was “amazing” and “wow! look, they are maps!”, but the response from the tutor was at best tepid.  We had quite a lively discussion in the class when I introduced my pieces, and I was pleased to see the group arguing amongst themselves about the meaning of my work – just the sort of debate you would hope to achieve.

The crux of their question was to the level of my specific personal experience which is on display in the work. Some thought they related better to the work because it was more universally human (mountains, sea etc), while others felt I myself was less present – an outside observer of the places being constructed. Suggestions such as making my own maps, using photographs or recording paths etc to personalise the materials. [Some of which I have already tried, some of which I have mixed feelings about].

My concern, is that Maiko seems to think my experiments have not broken away enough and I got the distinct impression from what she said that she didn’t seem to be keen on me doing more weaving. I’m hoping to clarify this before the end of term as I’m not very clear as to what her expectations are – how can I just drop my plan so close to the end? to do what else instead?

Being positive, I do see a couple of key points in her comments: certainly on the inclusion of personal experience into the work, and perhaps also on the safety/comfort of the technique. My worry is that I don’t have enough skill to go anywhere else with the method, or not enough creative vision to figure out what possibilities I’m missing. With only 15 weeks to go, how much have time do I really have to keep experimenting?

 

Artists profile: Joell Baxter

An unexpected find while searching for something completely unrelated, is the weaving artist Joell Baxter. Her practice combines screen printing, weaving and colour theory in an exploration of visual perception and physical response. The placement of her multi-coloured, paper weaving sculptures evokes minimalist sculpture and interior design staples like carpets and pillows (and occasionally chairs too). Although her work is quite fine art-y (especially in the way she is inspired by the interplay of colours) but it is also very familiar and evocative of textile work. This cross-disciplinary approach inspired me as it is fascinating to see weaving linked so closely with painting and fine art instead of any formal links to contemporary basketry. Particularly while I am still searching for my own ‘label’.

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In her words she describes: “I have always made work that sits between disciplines and actively engages the viewer in different modes of looking. All of my work strongly references minimalism, in terms of its approach to space and to creating a one-on-one relationship between the viewer and the work. I use very basic processes and forms that are reminiscent of grade school arts and crafts projects like weaving potholders. I want to evoke an immediate sense of familiarity, almost a muscle memory of how the work was made. But after that initial response, I hope that what at first seemed familiar becomes strange and more complex.”

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“In planning my work, everything is extremely orderly and can be diagrammed as a set of instructions. I typically use colors in the order of the visible spectrum, so red follows orange follows yellow, and so on. But by weaving these colors together, they start to interact and become harder to name and distinguish. This is due to the inherent nature of weaving, where color relationships are constantly alternating through the pattern of over and under. So there is a kind of glitch introduced into the plans, forcing me to let go of absolute control over the results.”

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Great stuff!

Working Process show

Our pop-up work in progress show is now up in Camberwell Space Projects after a week or so of last minute prep. It looks really good, I’ve been quite impressed by the range of stuff on display – particularly since this is the first real show of work by the first years. No photos of the work yet, must get some next week.

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So in the end I put up two pieces, the mountain map and the sea weaving, alongside the two inspiration weaves/words. After testing I decided the pieces looked good on the wall – I think better than showing flat on a plinth or shelf. I got some useful minions to help me out too!

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Using the wall gave me a lot of options to play with angles and the view of both sides:

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Overall thoughts. The small pieces are nice, but I definitely want to do at least one big piece. I may not do three all the same size, but at least one work can be underway while I finalise the next two. Do I want to keep the threads loose at the back? This emphasises the two-sided nature of the map, and the excess of information which is lost in the view at the front (echoing the map versus the map legend). Does this become obvious though or does it just look untidy?