Category Archives: 03.4 Tutorials and seminars

Orientation and map making workshop

We had the chance to drop into a workshop the lovely Bridget was running for the first years this morning, the aim of which was to essentially make a giant context map for the whole MADM cohort. I was taking part primarily to observe and document the process, seeing how the mind mapping process was approached by the participants and how we went from blank page to completed map.

The first stage was creating a physical map by standing people in groups according to their future vision (get a job, run a studio etc.). We then started to join people according to what materials they use in their practice.

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One of the key things I noticed was the fluidity of the map – what Bridget was doing was essentially changing the projection method and watching what happens. The links and points stay the same but the arrangement of the network moves. This is something I will be very keen to look into more.

The second half of the exercise was to create a mind map using cards/pictures for the context of the entire class. This was very interesting to watch and see the overlaps of everyone’s work. I did feel a little isolated sadly though, as my work still seems to drop of the very edge of the group – even more so in comparison with the first years as they seem to be very design / product heavy. This is something I have to just accept as it is more critical than ever for us to be true to our own practices – and do the work we want/need to do for ourselves.

This was the resulting map:
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Overall very informative and fun, as always with Bridget’s workshops. Lots of thoughts to take away.

Group Tutorial w/ Maiko

Our first group crit of the second year! Fascinating to see the difference between now and a year ago: everyone sounds so much more certain, more involved and simply more excited about their work and their plans for the future. If you look at the members of the class who haven’t done as much development (perhaps through simply not making or testing enough ideas) you can’t help but feel for them – seeing a frustration and a confusion that we’ve felt all year but have finally started to leave behind.

I went into the session still harbouring my A v B quandary and wondering how to combine or choose between the two ideas. First off I presented my (Experiment A) corn circle and the accompanying photos to the group. Responses:

  • Corn is heavy with ritual symbolism, even in a simplified form compared to my desire line this is still evident. This is fine if that’s what I want the piece to say, but….do I? (No)
  • Can’t escape the context of folk traditions / folk craft with this either. Now this is true partly of any weaving I do, but the corn weaving makes this much more manifest through the material.
  • Do the photos do anything? I’m not convinced and the group didn’t sound convinced either – Maiko picked up on the alien geometry of the circle standing out against the urban backdrop (pure circles aren’t that common). This is exactly what I wanted but…. I’m now not sure I like the idea at all

We then went on to discuss a few other general ideas. The main points I noted were:

  • The land artists such as discussed in my research paper generally use elemental materials – wood, stone, earth, water etc. I could consider creating my own elemental language, perhaps if not literal then metaphorical
  • I explained that I think I finally understand the agency that the material itself has in generating meaning, so perhaps it is time to let go of my current ‘fixations’ and reflect on my material use across Unit 1. My material choice is always symbolic – this is important to me – and will be a core principle of my Unit 2 project. I want every material I use to be there for a reason and nothing should be replaceable with something else.
  • Text, words are important to me and always have been – am I going to consider bringing this into my work somewhere?
  • We taked about Experiment B – the map weaving – and what I planned next to do with it (if anything). I commented on how I thought the most exciting thing about the maps is that they bring with them a co-existing alternate reality of the past embedded within them

What next?

Well first off, I followed the suggestions of the group (incl. Maiko) of trying my corn dolly weave with my maps. This was incredibly fun and satisfying to do – and much to my surprise gives an incredibly robust structure. I didn’t risk standing on it, but you could probably rest a brick on it at least.
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I have been thinking over my options for a week or so now, but after making & thinking today a giant lightbulb clicked on somewhere in my head. This lightbulb combines my current direction with some of the very BIG early concepts I had back last year but couldn’t deal with at the time; however, it is also focussed enough to be achievable – at least I think so!!

More to come in a future post, I need to rewrite my project proposal first, but…..I think I may have found the project for the final show…..!!!

Tutorials with Maiko / Shane

I was in on Wednesday for a tutorial with Maiko. Definitely feel like I am finally able to discuss sensibly what my project is trying to do. It’s nice to be less tongue tied when talking to Maiko at last!  I was pleased that she seemed happy with progress and also found the weavings that I have been doing interesting. This was followed by a sneaky chance tutorial with Shane this afternoon, who I was keen to discuss my weaving with given his background and knowledge of basketry. Between the two of them there are a few things to consider:

(1)  Have I finished experimenting directly with the road maps? 

Well my first reaction was to say yes, I’m done, I have been trying to get the expression of my concept directly into raw materials, with the traditions and connotations within them broader and more accessible than the already provided representation of place through formal mapping. I did like the ‘woven fabric’ I made with the thin map yarn and wires during the interim show, but I would naturally treat this as a textile, so not really sure what I would do with it usefully for now.

(2)  How much of the ritual associations of straw do I want embedded within the piece? 

Both Shane and Maiko saw the local traditions (corn dollies, harvest rituals etc) that the material spoke of straight away and questioned how much I wanted – particularly since I had been generally keeping the ears on the pieces so far. Shane commented on the rural-ness of this as well, and asked how well this resonated with being displayed on the blank white of an art school wall. Maiko also suggested I look more into artists/craftspeople working with straw weaving.

(3)  There is still time to experiment with new materials 

I mentioned that I felt like I had been ‘anxious’ at trying out using willow to weave with (possibly as I felt that I wasn’t skilled enough as a basketmaker to do so). However, we are still in experimental phase, so why not try out a new material. This would remove the heavy ritual symbolism, but still keep the ancient (local) basketry traditions and rural aspects of the history inherent in the material. An order is now placed with a Somerset willow grower…..so we’ll see soon!

(4)  How do you create form?

This was more of an unanswered question, as this is what I had been asking myself already. I don’t want to dictate the form from data, but neither do I just want to make an expression of how I’m currently feeling without planning some better intent. I am wondering if I should explore the idea of footsteps as form. A sculptural dérive perhaps?

(5) What about site-specificity?

This has been something on my list which I have been avoiding, as it seems quite difficult to get right. Shane brought this up (and rightly so) and it’s probably time to get to grips with testing it. He commented on how important displaying the piece is, and even wall v table v installation is critical. You will get a different response in different places (straw seen in an urban environment compared to a wheat field for instance). Shane suggested some Goldsworthy type temporary installations, which I have wanted to do this anyway, having started to get excited about my new (however foundational) photography skills.

(6)  There is no box

A few thinking outside the box ideas from Shane (as always!) including the idea of locality and the body (wearable weaving) and performance – perhaps of making in action.

Overall, I was pleased in particular that I do finally understand some of the points Maiko has been making all year, and that I am getting much more focussed down on what I am doing. Shane commented on the simplicity/purity of materials I’m using – only one material in the weaving (even down to the string), and only one colour and line of ink in my drawings. I like this type of aesthetic in my work: elegance, emergence and authenticity. (I will need to define these some time!)

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