Category Archives: 03.4 Tutorials and seminars

A change in perspective

With my project moving away from object-ness and more into the realms of knowledge and language, Maiko kindly arranged for me to have a tutorial with Susan, the director for Camberwell’s Book Arts MA course. It was a fascinating conversation and a different perspective on what I have been doing. We had a good chat about my still-too-large scope and where I am stuck, and my dichotomy between an interest in place / nature and place / language. Some good references and places to visit added to the to-do-list.

I showed Susan some of my latest experiments, and she was very interested in the Starfield piece – the only one I have so far I felt has that something. She noted the moving away from the stitched quilt into something more communicative of my concepts. We discussed that after Starfield, I went down the road of experimenting with natural dyeing ‘of place’; Susan commented that this has been done a thousand times over, and isn’t it a little safe? (Yes). Have my new experiments now lost the magic of that first piece? (Yes). We discussed the impact the written mathematical language has as an integral part of the piece, part of the materiality of the whole object. She said not to be frightened of tapping into my physics knowledge, this is the uniqueness of it – looking at place at a whole different scale – the cosmological place which humanity inhabits. Also a clear message that unit 1 is there to take risks – so go for it!

My learning from this week:

– nature and man all co-exist, so don’t get obsessed with “natural” fibres, look instead at the material properties I want to express
– materiality can be expressed in many forms, including the texture of the page and the quality of the drawn line, it’s not the preserve of 3D objects!
– I described my current practice as drawing, so far I quite like that as a description. Do some more reading to see how contemporary drawing is seen by the wider art world.
– stop being so afraid of venturing down the road into mathematical / scientific concepts.

So having decided it was time to re-evaluate what experiments to do next anyway (see last post), I think it is about time to start taking some bigger risks and steps forward.

Project proposal

Think bigger. I am making art to engage with more people than just me. I can now answer Maiko that I am not interested in exploring ideas around defining my identity though place – I don’t just want to look at difference, I want to look at shared experiences. I could look at place its most grandest incarnation – how we make sense of our place in the vast unknowable depths of the universe? Moving past the awe and mystery into tangible, physical understanding.

Research Paper

This is looming on the horizon and I have decided my current working essay concept is now out-of-date, firmly supporting research on place purely through experiments with nature materials. TIME TO MOVE ON! I’ve spent this week putting together some new ideas of what research could help me answer my unanswered questions….

….how can an artwork embody both personal experience and collective understanding?
….what works using ideas from mathematics / physics has actually been successful both visually and conceptually?

Experiments

I think it is time to return to the original ideas behind Starfield and take them in a different direction.

Group crit with Maiko

It has been a while since we had a group crit and our session with Maiko on Thursday reminded me of why I have found them useful so far. I took in three different experiments to show the group the range of things I am making/thinking and why I come to find myself a little stuck at the moment on where to go next. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) this managed nicely to show up the extent of my confusion with the rapidly spiralling out of control context for my work. I think I have expanded a number of strands of thinking to the point where they are having completely different conversations through my experiments.

Maiko asked again if my discussion on a sense of place is really about identity and belonging. I burbled a bit about local knowledge and experience, but I’m evidently not clear enough in my own head to be clear when talking to everyone else. I know I have been a little reticent of looking at questions of identity – perhaps because I know I am not interested in the commonly seen art on identity: gender, race, sexuality, politics etc.

And then where does all of the stuff on language fit in? I showed a couple of my latest drawings (mark-making with the language of navigation) which are another set of ideas I don’t know where to take. Important questions over whether I am looking to imprint language onto the surface, or embed my messages into the materiality of the object. I understand that it is the latter which I am trying to do, I just haven’t figured out how… I mentioned that I was finding it easier to express what I am thinking through words and poetry, but not yet able to get a material language which speaks of my ideas. Suggestion to make a poem out of fabric – I quite like this idea, reminds me of something we saw recently at the Sonia Delauny show at Tate Modern, where she expressed a poem through her trademark colour painting.

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Maiko also made a comment which has stayed with me as a poignant observation: that my work speaks of a physical place, but one with no people in it – there is only one person evident in any of my work. Reflecting on this over the last few days, I have found this quite a mind-stirrer, and have been wondering if this gets more to the point than I realised at the time.

Should I perhaps consider my question from the other side? Not a sense of place and belonging, but instead that of the dislocated, the isolation and longing. The ambiguous identity; the question of why we feel like we belong in some places but not in others, even longing for places we have never seen; the search for traces of yourself reflected in the world around you. I perhaps need to go back to the topic of materiality and review what can best express what I am trying to say. I have been recently constraining my work to using cotton with plants / materials ‘of-place’ to make both my fabric drawings and handmade paper –  I should review if am I over-constraining myself and if I am missing something as a consequence.

Hmm….

MADM Symposium II

So, the final few weeks approach for our second year colleagues. As part of their assessment for Unit 2, they had to give an 8min presentation on their resolved work and the context which sits behind it. With 19 students due to graduate it was quite a full day of presentation, and with much to be learned for us first years who will be in this position in a year’s time.

Overall, I was impressed with some of the completed works which were being presented. To be honest though, I was very surprised by the number of gaps in people’s knowledge of their own projects and their intent so close to the end of the course.  A few too many unanswered why’s. Rather than reflect on the individual’s concerned, I want instead to look at the key questions which the tutors asked of everyone – particularly those which we really should be able to address by the time of the final show next July.

Learning points:

1. CONTEXT IS KEY

  • Why are you inspired by this particular craft culture / time period?
  • Ever process you use has its own cultural and historical significance, do you understand fully the significance of the processes you have chosen to use?

Mixing and matching processes brings with it a mix and match of influences and histories – I need to be aware of this and consciously manage the additional narratives they bring. Be careful also not to get too abstract, all work should be contextualised. I find it very easy to fall down theoretical rabbit holes, so need to watch out here!

2. CRAFT / ART / DESIGN

  • How did you manage your design process? Why did you make X…why were you inspired by X…?
  • Does your design methodology match the order of the actual processes you have used to construct your pieces?
  • What is the value of the technique in your work?

Interesting debate – am I coming into my work from the angle of craft art or fine art – does it matter?

3. MATERIALITY

  • Why use this material and not another?
  • Where does each of the elements you are using come from, who made them?

I need to fully understand and be able to articulate why I use fabric and paper in my work. Why plant dyes also – and be careful of assumptions on shared understanding, particularly when using ill-defined works like “natural”. I should also look into the full associations between cloth and memory.

4. THE AUDIENCE

  • Who are your audience?
  • Have you considered whether your audience / viewer will understand what you are trying to get across with your work?

Be wary of making assumptions with the connections you make in your work, everything should be fully backed up by research, hypothesis or testing. Unless of course you want to make it “about you” but this may limit your work’s ability to engage with others.

Much still to learn, much still to do!

Summer term stock-takeI’m

As the final term of this academic year rolled into action, I had a tutorial with the lovely Bridget, who I was pleased seemed excited about my change in direction. This is the first tutorial I have had since the MYR – I’ve actually made quite a lot of progress over the holidays. Following on from our chat, I thought it would be useful to get my thoughts in order on where I am and where I can go next. I need to keep developing my idea and experimenting with new processes – not get stuck on resolving one idea (although I want to do this too). I also want to draft an artist’s statement of sorts – after being posed the question by one of the class – I think it is about time for us to be able to answer this, even as a first draft.

My research question as it stands, is “how can we use the boundaries between material, place and time to explore our sense of place?”. All the research I have done so far into place, identify and psychogeography has lead me to my own hypothesis that I want to explore through my MA project. That is – that our connection to place is defined by knowledge: be that specific local knowledge related to the nature or culture of the place, or knowledge from mind or memory which is overlayed onto place creating a unique experience in space-time.

The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) had a complementary view on our relationship with knowledge. He wrote on the fundamental role that sensory perception plays in how we understand the world. He argued that “knowledge is ‘felt’…consciousness, the human body and the phenomenal world are therefore inextricable intertwined…and the material world itself is therefore not the unchanging object presented by the natural sciences, but instead endlessly relational“.

If place is defined by knowledge, then I believe knowledge is defined by language. It is the ability to articulate our experiences which allow us to fully understand them. Spoken, written or visual….readable or codified, the purpose is the same, the communication of ideas. Roger Macfarlane in his book Landmarks [1], comments that “the contours and colours of words are inseparable from the feelings we create in relation to situations, to others and to places“. However as knowledge of places are lost, so is something of the experience of those places. Macfarlane goes on to discuss the words for our natural phenomenon and entities, that “there are fewer people able to name them and once they go unnamed they go to some degree unseen”. Leading geographer Yi Fu Tuan [2] also supported this view; he proposed that “it is precisely what is invisible in the land that makes what is merely empty space to one person, a place to another”. 

So with all of this said, where do I position my work? Currently, my intention is to create a language which allows us to experience a sense of place, capturing unspoken or unknown/unknowable meanings. A wordless language that is before and beyond the specificity of naming, embedding meaning through local knowledge: the wisdom of the cunning man, the path of the flâneur.

Practically, I am still looking at processes which embed elements of wildness into my materials – wildness through releasing energy, free-will, serendipity. This will bring in the natural dyeing I have been exploring and the transformation of materials with factors not all under my control. I want to expand this from just the material to look into the language of mark-making as well. I have a few ideas of where to explore this term, using handmade pigments and paints as well as more of the asemic calligraphy work which has been bubbling away in the background.

Overall, I’m excited about what’s ahead.

Whatever we remember, and the manner in which we remember, we get a different past, a different sense of place, and a different landscape every time“.³

References
[1] Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane (2015)
[2] Space and Place, Yi Fu Tuan (1977)
[3] Christopher Tilley, IntroductionIdentity, Place, Landscape and Heritage Journal of Material Culture July 2006 11732

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

Tabula Rasa

Almost a week has passed since the series of unfortunate events which plagued last week. I have spent all that time trying not to think (something surprisingly difficult) and get in touch with the real things which inspire me.

It was the visiting tutor, Barnaby, who asked some of the most directed and crucial questions of anyone I’ve met in College so far; what is it which drives all of your creativity? What truly inspires you in the things you read, the photos you take or the things you do from the moment you get out of bed?What defines you as an artist?

Well, this has been the core of what I have been trying to answer since I started, at the same time as trying to “meet the needs of the course” and unfortunately have ended up with a chasm of disconnect between the two. I have decided not to quit, and to continue on the course – primarily because I have learnt so much and (despair and confusion aside), I think I have come a long way in a very short time. I like the professional critique you can get in this environment and exposure to cross-disciplinary ideas. But from now on, I am going to work from my own art first and not from what I think I need to do to pass the MA.

So to the next steps. I am going to redraft my proposal from a blank page, working with my inspirations first – and figuring out my question later. One of the tutors once said that “we like obsessions”, so i thought I would start there – with the visual imagery from nature, books and film which surround me at home (and in some cases everywhere else too). This brings me to two key things: the magic of nature and Moomin-mindedness.

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I woke up in the middle of the night with a realisation that this was the place I started back in September….do you remember this photo from the narrative workshop? Bringing in two objects which meant something significant to you? A Moomin mug and my Morris dancing hat – a good omen I hope.

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Much work to do then to find my question in amongst my existing inspirations, and see how this relates to objects and making them. As a starting point I am going to work from the piece I made for the pop-up exhibition this week (blog on this coming soon). This was titled The unwatched moon, as a comment on society’s losing touch with nature in the modern world. I want to look at more at this as a topic: overlooked beauty in the modern city, natural magic losing its foothold in people’s hearts and minds. As a final outcome, I am aiming for a mixture of two and three dimensional fibre works, stitched textile art and fibre sculpture perhaps. I’m not bothered about functionality, but would like the materials to also speak of being ‘overlooked’. This fits in with what I thought about using the silk waste fibres for the moon sculpture. Not sure about a new context yet, will work on it.

Overall, I think I’m now in a much better place…now, back to work!

Thirteen hours to solve the Labyrinth

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

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

Where do I go from here?

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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

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

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Handmade Silk paper

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

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

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

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

Angelique Talbot, Feb 2015

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

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

Expecto Patronum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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