Category Archives: 03.6 Unit 1 reflection

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

Life is a reflection of what we allow ourselves to see

The incredibly short summer “break” is already nearing its end. I have taken my head out of my research paper for a few days to see where I am on the practical making side of things, and start with a plan on where to go next. I want to go into my second year with a clear plan – the unit 1 experimentation has been fun, but it is time to stop floating about and focus down the processes and concepts I’m looking at. Well, that sounds decisive doesn’t it?

My hesitancy has been understandable I think: I enjoy using a range of different techniques and have never been particularly over-attached to any specific materials. How do you then start to narrow the field once you have been specifically encouraged to make it so wide? I got started thinking again about ‘my practice’ and what this means to me now – almost exactly a year since I walked out of my desk job and into the studio.

  1. Quilting

I like making quilts. I like making functional quilts that you can wrap yourself up in on the sofa or the beach on a cold winter’s day. Or as cushions. Surprisingly to myself, I have ended up liking the slow, hand-stitching techniques, particularly old english patchwork, paper piecing, hand-quilting, (although I like a pre-cut as much as the next person). What I feel though, is that ‘art quilts’, are not the best way for me to say what I need to say. I realise I am not a natural textile artist – fabric does’t automatically come first for me as a design medium, however well I can manipulate fabric and stitch. I want to just make quilts because I want to. Actual old-fashioned usable quilts, not just something destined for the wall.

2. Calligraphy

Aside from cross-stitch, poetry and calligraphy were probably my first ‘art forms’ as a child. As someone who loves words and the expression of feeling through words, this is no surprise. What has surprised me is that I think I am quite good at it, and that I can get better at it with more practice. Paper and ink are always the first things I will reach for if have spare time in the studio to play….and as for all of these small books / book forms I have made on courses lately….definitely, definitely need to do more. I’m not excluding fabrics and stitch here, but I want it to be there because the work demands it, not as a precondition.

3. Basketry

My new discovery – basket weaving, in an almost infinite variety of forms. I love the freedom you have to create sculpturally with these processes. What I also like is the raw human-ness of the making processes. Basketry has been around as long as people, they have a place in every aspect of our lives. If you extend this out to weaving in general, it is rooted in locality more than any other making process I know, a harmony of harvested natural (or processed!) fibres and human craft skill. Ok, I admit, I’ve been a bit taken by this! The one thing I have realised though my essay research (particularly into Chris Drury) is how the engagement with local can provide volumes of context to understanding your making process: A craft skill originating to a specific region (such as Cumbrian dry-stone walling) or a native material grown and used in a particular area (e.g Japanese Bamboo). Basketry is a naturally 3-dimensional medium, and if you can look at the fibres in the right way, they will tell you what to make with them.

So where does that leave us?

Well, for the purposes of my MA I am going to start to focus primarily on processes associated with basketry/weaving, looking also at how to incorporate and develop my existing textile/drawing practice. As part of my overall ‘professional practice’ I will continue to work on my calligraphy drawings & 3d poems, it will be nice to think they may eventually overlap anyway. My surface design skills and techniques can translate directly over into working with paper.

As a current statement of practice then, focussing on material and process (note, not the concept for once!) this is my first draft:

Predominantly, I like to work with fibres, combining the delicacy of natural plant fibres and papers with the cold hard edges of iron and steel. This embeds a strong sense of dimensionality, both in my drawings and 3D structures. My work balances the tension between here and there, between order and randomness: combining precision basketry and textile craft techniques with processes which bring serendipity and wildness into my materials.

More tomorrow on what experiments I have been doing lately…

The first year is done

How quickly the end of academic year has arrived. The last month has been a non-stop whirlwind of preparation and running of the show, last minute classes and tutors setting up assignments for the summer. I really need the summer break!  We will have more work to do over (the very short) summer break than I was expecting – but I really need some time to do some proper thinking, and more importantly have a rest!

Reflection on the interim show

The biggest piece of learning I will take away, is how you cannot overestimate how much work is involved in setting up a show. We started preparation way too late, but no-one had any idea what was required – and we were all surprised how much we were required actually sort out by ourselves. We got there in the end of course, but there were a few too many things being done (and work being finished!) just hours before the show opened.

I was impressed and surprised by how many people came to the private view, it was actually quite an event! I realise the vast proportion of visitors seemed more interested in drinking the beer than looking at the work, but I suppose that’s part of what a PV is about. There were some genuinely interested visitors as well though. Feedback wise, I had a number of people ask about what the work meant, particularly the Starfield piece, and quite a few people commented on how they liked the map basket. I even had a lovely discussion with Stella Harding (basketmaker), who took a few photos for her Morley students, and great comments from an unidentified member of Camberwell teaching staff – that’s the sort of feedback which motivates you to keep going.

So far, I have had three parents, one husband and a next-door neighbour come to visit me. So great to get so much support. Oh and nearly all of my business cards are gone already!

I have also taken the chance to quiz some of the second years before they disappear into the mist. One of my friends on the MA Book Arts course (with a mesmerising installation in the show), had some of the most poignant wisdom. Like me, she spent her EFT 1 year wandering though a range of very different experiments trying different concepts and different techniques, and ending up confused and overwhelmed with ideas. Her final success she believes, came from entering the second year with a new sense of purpose.

  • You have to OWN IT
  • Come back with FOCUS
  • BELIEVE in your ideas
  • Know what you want to say with your work / what you want your work to say (and the difference between the two)
  • INDEPENDENCE: you need to lead your own project
  • Listen to advice, but only take from it what is relevant to you
  • Ensure the work stays true to yourself

Wilding the edges

Following on from Lucy Orta’s Genius Loci talk a couple of weeks back, I had a day on a walking tour of Wimbledon, under the title of “Wilding the Edges”. The event was badged as an “interactive walking tour of Wimbledon’s unexamined places: a journey through spaces which straddle both city and countryside and where “wild” and cultivated” environments overlap.” We split into a number of groups: I went in the group led by Lucy Orta for those working on the Genius Loci project, and we were encouraged to photograph and take notes on areas which interested us as we passed through them. I have to admit to having decided to go my own way with my thoughts: I discovered I had been left off the list for those working on the project, so had missed all of the communications. Not really a big issue for me, I just concluded that I would try to make the walk relevant to my own proposal entirely.

Some photos first:

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As you can see by the pictures – I was interested in two things. One was clearly the line, broken and unbroken. Where is there continuity and where fragmentation? These paths allow us to ask where have we come from, and where are we going.

Second, I was attracted to the ‘non-places’, the areas you only ever pass through, with no narrative, no history. This got me thinking about site-specific work, and how much is about the place, rather than about any place. This has sparked off from some of the sketchbook work I have been doing on maps of the nameless city: any place, every place. These exist as the antithesis of the haunted place, soaked in memory and the spirits of the past more real than the history of the present. There is an echo of the earth in the haunted place, and we become the medium of the storytelling. In between the anyplace and the haunted place lie marker points – fixed points in time and space. Where are these found? What narratives of place are so strong that all thought from past and present converges around a single point?

After the walk we concluded the session with a ‘Barcamp’ discussion (a type of un-conference) in the pub, where we were invited to “reflect upon the social and political implications of the hybridised spaces and explore how we might respond to them as artists”. There was a number of separate interesting discussions on each table we could join/leave at will.

The discussion I spent most time in asked “What does it mean to be an urban human in the wilderness?”. We spent a lot of time trying to define what wilderness (and wildness) actually means. Most of us thought instinctively about landscape, nature – the wilderness of an actual physical location. The poser of the question had a different, and rather fascinating, perspective – that wildness is a state which exists within all people and all things – relating to an idea rather than a physical topography. ‘Wild’ is a combination of rising energy and free will. We also talked about the edge lands – the semi-wild places – where the boundaries become blurred. When you exist here, your behaviour changes, the way you look and act within the world. We become transfigured by the way we interact with the edge-land itself. This to me had echoes of the words from Boradkar’s book, Designing Things, which talked a lot about this transformation in relation to object (or thing) and the user.

So in summary, I won’t be carrying on with the Wimbledon project – although it was badged as a CCW thing, I think it was really meant for the Wimbledon MFA students. However, I gained some very valuable insights into my proposal question, and the idea of research by walking is a very interesting one. Helen Goodwin, whose research methods I very much like and which are aligned to my own proposal, talked about this in her research paper: “If everything is moving, where is here…”. I was so taken by the methodology described in here that I have been gradually working though most of the books on the bibliography.

She defines her practice like this: “I am interested in ideas that centre on what it is to define place and belonging. How inextricably bound do we become to the places in which/where we are born, live or travel to? I wonder how we develop our sense of belonging to those particular places. How much importance can we attach to these ideas as our societies become increasingly mobile? In a series of activities which possibly echo my having lived in different cultures and my sense of displacement, I have begun to collect and exchange material of place; the art works I make cease to be objects but become actions and gestures.”

Through doing this research, I have come across a rather intriguing strand of study known as psychogeography, which sounds very much like what we were doing on the walking tour. Psychogeography is the point where psychology and geography meet in assessing the emotional and behavioural impact of urban space. The intro book I have found [Coverley 2012] states that: “The relationship between a city and its inhabitants is measured in two ways – firstly through an imaginative and literary response, secondly on foot through walking the city. From Urban Wandering to the Society of the Spectacle, from the Dérive to Détournement, Psychogeography provides us with new ways of apprehending our surroundings, transforming the familiar streets of our everyday experience into something new and unexpected.”

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!