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Narrative weaving

Catching up on new making and a couple of days of tutorial ups and downs…

After doing the colour experiments a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to try doing a bigger piece which would show me what a larger piece of the paper weave would look like. So, last week I made a piece which incorporated the narrative materially into the weave; I based it on the idea of ‘origins’, and used of-place materials which spoke of one aspect of my place identity. Although this sounded like I knew what would come from it, looking back now it was clearly an early-stage, slightly unplanned experiment. Looking at the finished piece, there is something in it…but it’s a long way from being anything resolved. And perhaps not a final show worthy idea after all.

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After making this piece I tried to figure out what I didn’t like about it. More than anything else my choice of materials is perhaps the biggest question: paper, map, wheat and white willow. I know I wanted “English” materials, but this set doesn’t really fit together very well. Let’s not even discuss the fact that the paper is actually Japanese. My favourite pieces have all been ones which have had a single material propagated throughout, and this is a long way from that. Still, I thought there was something interesting in it….but I’m no longer sure quite what that was.

I had a catch-up with Maiko yesterday and unsurprisingly, she didn’t like it, and seemed unnervingly happy that I wasn’t pleased with it also. In fact, Maiko didn’t really think there was anything in any of the paper weaving samples I’ve done. Perhaps I see alone see something lovely in the coloured weft weave in particular, but that isn’t related to my current project. Something to file in the new ideas book I think?

So what next? Well, before I went in for my tutorial I imagined a mini-Maiko on my shoulder asking “Why? Why?” and went back to my project objectives:

I am investigating 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, generates belonging, displacement, familiarity or isolation. My project is based upon the process of weaving, as it echoes my ideas of universality and locality: a single cloth constructed from countless individual strands. Within the fibres, I am seeking an expression of the complexity of our existence. Fragments of past, present and future co-existing for a fleeting moment, never to reform.

And this brought me back to the idea of using map weave and the ideas around the heterotopia – in Richard Long’s words where the sculpture and the place are one and the same. I was quite enjoying the deconstruction and reconstruction of the map back over the holidays (and the echo in constructing and deconstructing the sense of self). Time to revisit the map mini-project!

This was my new test piece done using plain 2-ply paper in place of the more time-consuming handmade map yarn:

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I really liked the vibrancy of structure in this piece and could envisage a really large, topological (topographical?) low relief sculpture made completely of maps. Something echoing the ups and downs of the evolution of one’s own sense of self across a lifetime?

When I showed Maiko these she went straight for the thread made of north sea blue, and seemed fascinated by this as an object in its own right. Unlike the restricted loom weaving, there is a lot of potential in this idea and we had a lively chat about some things to consider. Maiko suggested I had come full circle, arriving back where I started the course process-wise but with a different idea of making and the development of my ideas. [I certainly hope I have moved on after all this time and effort!??] I definitely had no clue about materiality and the agency of object (and process itself) when I started. I think this idea, although not yet fully resolved, can contain all the lessons I have learnt about making over my time at Camberwell.

Today, I followed up this chat with a tutorial with Susan J from the Book Arts course. We last met last June before the interim show – so much has come on since then! Really great chat and lots more ideas to think about. Nicely different yet complementary to the comments from Maiko. Importantly she reiterated that there is still time to experiment. I can a have a “plan for the show” right now without needing to know exactly to the mm what the final object will look like.  She said not to pin everything down too early, there is still time!

So a summary of my reflection from both discussions:

  • Colour will be a key factor to manipulate in the final object…
  • …as will tension – does the tension in the weaving echo tension in the landscape / geological or identity crisis?
  • Investigate the relationship of the grid as the basis of weaving and the grid as the basis of mapping
  • The form of the final object need not adhere to the grid, subversive weaving? Be wary of not making it look like a ‘basket’ though
  • It also doesn’t need to be a really big piece which contains every concept in one – I can focus it down, specific ideas to specific pieces, and show a series of works
  • Since I’m obsessed with words and this is conceptual art, use the labels to add extra layers of meaning to the work. I can make the display of the final pieces work to my advantage here – labels, libraries, context etc.
  • The weaving is a condensation of all of the information of the map into a new object, and this is quite a powerful image I can play with (e.g. this one piece of textile is made from 10 individual 1:25000 O/S maps etc). This is not only true spatially but temporally as well.
  • The map is normally a folded object so what am I saying by showing it in a non-folded form?
  • Do I want my pieces to be touchable, will you be able turn them over? OR do I want people to see the underneath but not be able to feel it?
  • on this point, a map it a two-sided object. The back either has a new map, a blank space or an index/legend of some kind. How will I make use of this or acknowledge this in the work?
  • Remember eggs and baskets!

 

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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.

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