Tag Archives: reflection

Is selling ‘selling-out’

Art versus craft versus product……Where are the lines? Are they (or can they) all be the same? What matters for what market?

In the turmolic washing machine that is now life at Canny Maker HQ this is the current question of the moment. I am standing still but beginning to look forward and wonder which way to turn next. This summer will mark 4 years since I left my office job to look towards a new pasture. The various life changing events in between have somewhat delayed arriving at the new pasture I had in mind, but we must still move on and persevere, There is now no way back. But what next? After finishing my MA I was set on working in the art world, making works which reflected an inner poetic expression, seeking to offer a personal experience shared with the external onlooker. I moved away from the making of map string, a natural shift but one originating in a creeping feeling of something being too contrived. The poetry of my work I shifted back to the writing and calligraphy – its natural home – and one where there are still so many worlds left unexplored.

But again, a pause.

As time passes, idealism fades into reality, and the reality of life with a family is one where the family must come first. Ideals are all very well when all I’m wasting is my own time. So I am back asking myself what I want to do – do I want to go back push my art, making work for exhibitions (of which I have not been in any) or do I want to make work which can actually sell. For money.

Someone once told me that they would be really sad if I ended up “just selling stuff on Etsy”. Lately I have been wondering why? Is there something so wrong with making handmade products and selling them online? Is it some elitist thing which means I need to only be making and selling in Liberty, not in some other small scale way? This is the question isn’t it – why do so many people see selling work as selling out. I could be just as much a designer maker as being an artist. Or both, at the same time. Its all just a matter of labelling isn’t it?

 

 

Picking up the pieces

Someone sent us a card once which said “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade”. Sometimes though it is hard to see the way out when you are weighted down with so many metaphorical lemons. So you carry on doing what you do, running from the past, doing anything not to look forward and managing to completely miss “now” from any part of your life. It has been like that for a long time at CannyMaker HQ: I realised it is now 8 months since I last posted anything on this blog, and 16 months since leaving Camberwell. Time flies when you have your head in the sand.

Over the last few months, I’ve been doing some mindfulness training, and slowly trying to sort things out. I’m not sure what I’m doing or where I am going – both in life and work. In life I’ve at last been slowly making my metaphorical lemonade, and it is time to do the same in work. Perhaps the uncertainty will bring back the creative freedom which was lost in the post-MA haze of trying to make a career of it. Mum often says to me, “don’t try, just do” (I think that might have been from Yoda), but it is true that we are often guilty of trying too hard and not just getting on with things.

I thought I would start again, looking back through all of the ideas pushed aside during my MA. There was some really good stuff in there which was left half-explored and it’s time to blow the dust off. My starting point is the pure pleasure of a brand new sketchbook, and the topic I had originally in my first week at Camberwell – that of liminality and the liminal space. Now with my new practice-based research skills, I might have better luck at detangling the topic which I found just too big at the time. I dug through some of my old ‘inspirations’ notes and found this quote from Do Ho Suh; it suits both the topic and the life lesson rather nicely.

“I see life as a passageway, with no fixed beginning or destination. We tend to focus on the destination all the time and forget about the in-between spaces.” – Do Ho Suh

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As the rain turns to silver glass

There is a long road ahead of each of us in life. Meandering though a land we cannot see until we pass through it. Like many, I find uncertainty difficult. My mind tries to help me by always fixating on finding a destination, finding the right path through the divergent choices we face, so each step points forward. When you are sure where you are going, the gentle meander of day to day life seems easy to deal with.

But the universe is too cunning to outwit it with such strategies. We can never see far enough through the rain to know where we are going. No sense of dimensional space applies to fate: what is forwards can also be backwards, and what can seem like downwards can often be forwards. Coping with this Escher-esque world requires us to continually change our frames of reference. Adapting ourselves to progress, meeting each circumstance as it is thrown at us. Lest we find ourselves crouched at the side of the road, too paralysed with fear to move on.

And so, I have found myself at a fork in the road. A fork with many paths leading off in different directions, with no signs to post the way. What do you choose when you no longer no where you want to be? Being forced to pause momentarily allows you the chance to reflect. Not just the school-book reflective essays which you write knowing your tutor is marking what you say. No, this is real, personal reflection where you don’t care anymore if anyone or no-one ever reads what you say.

It has been 7 months since the end of the structured learning of my MA has ended. Looking back from here I see how much I have needed the validation of others to give me a the confidence to move on. Once that is taken away, so quickly life is plagued by uncertainty and the shadow of creeping doubt – of your talents, your desires and your ‘plan’, which rapidly fades into dust once it sees the light of day. Where now? The old festival of Imbolc has just passed, the moment we start to see the light of spring slowly returning to warm the winter dark. This is the perfect time for reflection and re-dedication. Should I release myself from the pressure of achievement? Not doing anything for any reason other than the rawness of desire? In the business world, not having a  corporate vision & strategy is the easiest way to fail. But life is not a business, and living without passion and joy is surely not living at all. Then again, we still have to pay the mortgage, and no decision (however hard you try) can ever be made in a vacuum.

Context is everything.

Waiting for the post

I have ran out of maps.

More are coming in the post, but for the moment, making has stalled while I watch for the postman to come by with a big parcel for me. This has given me the day to think about other things – and question just how many maps I actually want to go to (so far I have 25 done). The ‘other things’ however, are also starting to get quite important, with only three weeks left for any work needed before the show build / assessment begins.

I have decided I do want to put a book of poetry alongside the installation. This isn’t going to be full on long, wordy poems, but rather a single line – a glimpse – of the memory being invoked for each of the map strings I have made. This will offer an insight into the nature of the memories being described for those who wish to know more about the work.

Of course I will have to make the book myself, it will not do to just buy something off the shelf for a exhibition of this nature. I have made some small books before, so I know the basics of bookbinding and some of the formats available. This afternoon I looked back at some of the samples I have made before, as well as some new ideas in long overlooked books off my bookshelf. And ho! I have made an uncharacteristically swift decision! I am pleased that the impending doom of the final show is at least pushing me to make required decisions so swiftly.

Some photos of the finished book model (using bright paper colours for testing the construction but skipping the outside cover). I think I will go for A5 size – twice as big as the model in the photos below. Three reasons for choosing this structure:

  1. It has such a lovely feel to it both stood up and laid down, simple yet with an air of elegant complexity. The book is after all not the main feature of my installation
  2. It allows for hidden pages, things which cannot be quite seen. I know exactly what is going on here, but I’m not going to spoil the surprise!
  3. It offers what seems to be at first glance a continuous stream of text from page to page (on the red paper in the model). Since identity is a fluid stream of discrete moments, I like this symbology.

 

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Symposium II

I remember very clearly the Symposium held this time last year, watching the then second years floundering under the pressure of presenting and responding to difficult questions. How quickly the world turns and it was our turn!

I went in the first group, a mix of people doing more functional, art based work with personal and poetic based content. It was a good grouping and I think all of the presentations in the group went well. I was pleased with how mine went, I did what I set out to do, although it is hard to tell how it went down with the tutors. I didn’t get any direct questions either – there was only one question about communicating emotions to the audience asked to all four of us. Perhaps no-one had anything to say to me, or couldn’t engage with my topic? Not sure.

The rest of the day was very intense but ok, most of the presentations weren’t too bad – most people had been a little more interesting than just a straightforward chronological catalogue of what they had done. As with last year, those who clearly do not understand their project nor their context stand out a mile. Also painfully standing out were those who are doing the course ‘just because’ and have no intention of building on it later. Perhaps people should just be more honest: saying that their MA project is just a one-off to build skills and they are going straight into an ordinary job afterwords. It would be much easier than experiencing a mauling under questioning. Overall, my main takeaway was about use of language, and how easy it is for someone to make sweeping statements and assumptions about people using their choice of words. You must be aware of how people will interpret the messages you put across. Also, there is no such thing as “Eastern” or “Western”!

First assessment box ticked!

Show: T-6 weeks
27 days until show build

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?

 

Thoughts on a year of learning

I’ve been putting together some bits and pieces for the Unit 1 assessment which is now only a week away. This has been a great opportunity to reflect on the last year (and a bit) as a whole and see what I have learnt in that time. Reading back though my blog from when I started last September was quite something. At least the quality of my blog writing has definitely improved!

I wanted to capture some of my key learning points, things I think I understand now which I didn’t before:

On motivation 

  1. You have to OWN IT
  2. You must follow your own path – you can be inspired and collaborate with everyone, but you must walk alone.  It doesn’t matter what your colleagues do or don’t do, you direct your own learning.
  3. I see people I admire and am fascinated to listen to and others who I don’t get inspired by at all.  This is fine – we do not have to click with everyone and everything.

On the art process 

  1. Intent: something made when you know why, what and how, can be so much more powerful than making on the go. Improvisation can still be intentional, but winging it will always show.
  2. You cannot separate your process from the object being made
  3. An object must be understood as more than a thing in itself, it must be placed within its whole system – its surroundings, history and context all change the way the viewer will interact with the object
  4. The making process is at the heart of turning concept into reality; process and material go hand in hand
  5. You can declare something ‘ordinary’ (such as a humble sheet of paper), but in the act of drawing attention to this aspect of its nature, you change that nature, generating an extra-ordinaryness about the object
  6. Fundamentally, I think I look at the world differently – or perhaps I just see things I would have otherwise missed before.
  7. However important I think the concept of an art piece is, I also value craftsmanship and quality; I think both need to work together.

On materials

  1. Just because something is there, it doesn’t mean you have to use it; just because something isn’t in front of you, doesn’t mean you can’t find it
  2. What is everyday to you may be brand new to someone else
  3. Even the rain means different things to different people
  4. I finally understand the agency that the material itself has in generating meaning
  5. Designers do not create meanings – they create form; it is users who create meanings

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…..!!!

A matter of A or B

In the list for the Unit 1 assessment is an updated project proposal, which I have neatly put on one side while writing my research paper. Well, time is nearing, as too is a decision on what to take forward into Unit 2. I have reached a point where it is becoming critical to have a clear vision on what I want – as I can’t efficiently work towards an ambiguous cloud of ideas. So what experiments do I do next??

A. Wheat/willow weaving.

This would allow me to do some contemporary sculpture using basketry weaving techniques. As well as the British willow artists I posted the other day, I have found the elegance of Japanese Bamboo weaving quite inspirational, it itself being a technique which embeds cultural and material locality very well. (Some info on this to come soon). With this I could use to do some site-specific / site-reponsive work as per the test of my wheat ring in this experiment. The intention of this was to show a juxtaposition of old ‘rural’ heritage traditions and the grit of urban reality. Not entirely convinced of this, but haven’t shown anyone the pics yet to discuss – taking this further could end up contrived or a bit staged, but could be great if done well.

B. Map weaving

The second option, is to go back to develop my ideas with the map yarn from the interim show – a contemporary cartographic language of sorts. This could nicely combine my ideas of time and place (the past as an alternate reality) and psychogeographic processes. Using different maps, city maps, or an interpretation of maps are all possible here. But, it is just too literal to use recycled maps??

How am I supposed to decide?

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!)