Thursday, 31 July 2014

Project 2 Reflection

Did you find this more theoretical approach helpful, interesting, inspiring, restrictive or boring?
It certainly hasn't been boring, although for a few weeks I was missing the practical textile work that was part of the other modules. Then my sketchbook work became more tactile and it was in fact liberating to be able to work on what I wanted without being restricted to the coursework.

Researching artists was helpful to the extent that it made it clearer to me what the range of artists work in textiles encompasses, and helped me to much better understand the craft/art and feminist contexts of textile art. It unexpectedly helped me to place myself in cultural context, and to understand that many (if not all) of my attitudes to art and crafts are derived from this without me knowing it.

Of course it was inspiring too and I am sure that I will be using some of the things I have learned in my sketchbook, either intentionally or otherwise, in future. I was particularly moved by the powerful size and organic textures of Magdelena Abakanowicz's sculpures, and this has revealed to me that I was holding back on this part of my vision because of the idea that it was too rough and emotional. I expect to explore her work more thoroughly, and that having learned about her will allow me to express this part of my vision more freely now.

Were you already familiar with some of the designers and artists in the set list? Whose work was completely new to you?/ How did you respond to it?
I didn't know of Leon Bakst, Ethel Mairet, or Magdalena Abakanowicz before this, and had not really explored any of the others except Tracey Emin.

Leon Bakst's designs appealed because of the strong colours, and the physicality of the female bodies he drew wearing his costumes. There was a feeling of freedom and joy in them, and playfulness. It is easy to see why he influenced others, although it seems as though his ideas were taken and stylised so much that they were no longer comfortable!

I had great difficulty finding images of Ethel Mairet's work on the internet, and was unable to get to see the collection in Surrey, or to find a copy of her book. Given this lack of reference information, it seems to me that her influence is due to her teaching others to use vegetable dyes and traditional weaving in 20th Century England.The images I have seen have been of samplers of weaving in subdued colours wtih limited interest to me. On the other hand, I do enjoy weaving and subtle colours, so I don't really know why these did not inspire me to do more of this, or to find out more about her. However, I did get interested when exploring artists who were taught by her including Peter Collingwood and Tadek Beutlich, both of whom took her basic weaving into the third dimension.

Did you find the questions we gave helpful as a basis for your analysis?
Yes, the list of questions was a good way of making me think about pieces and the way they work. In particular the question 'how does it work?', which made me focus on the details of the way they had been designed and produced to have a particular effect.

Do you think that an awareness of the context in which work is produced will influence the way in which you approach your own work in the future?
I think we are lucky to be working in a time when the boundaries of fine art and craft are breaking down as this allows freer experimentation and innovation is encouraged. Each module so far has released me to be freer in my exploration and this has been enjoyable and enlightening. I have learned that the context is changing all the time and that it can be inspiring and delightful to learn about what other people are doing.

Do you feel stimulated to do more research work of this nature in your own time?
Yes, I understand much better the value of this kind of work, and I am keen to learn more about Magdalena Abakanowicz, and about current artists in all modalities.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Home is where the roots are Theme Book

During this research project I have been working in my sketchbook, and particularly on a theme book about roots. What I find attractive about roots is both the physicality of their fleshiness twisting around each other, combined with the fine tendrils, and the symbolism of their clinging and stretching to find nourishment and stability.

Here is a selection of the work I did on this subject:

This roots idea coincided with a thought that my hall is rather bare and some imagery about home would be good under the stairs.

Hence 'home is where the roots are'.

Monoprints exploring thick and thin organic lines.

Natural fibre woven yarns exploring different ways of representing roots.

It became apparent to me that these were all raw and rough, giving a feeling of the grasping, survival aspects of roots more than the secure, homely aspect.

So I thought about how I could make a similar image with more luxurious yarns.

On the left, shiny hair falls in a rhythmic way, and could be a beautiful, luxurious metaphor for roots.

Right - knitted 'roots' in a variety of luxurious fine yarns and translucent plastic, separated by the more 'earthy' upholstery yarn.

Other explorations of roots images included knitting in different sized wools (left); fabric manipulation with threads left as rootlets (below left), combined monoprint and drawing (below right).

There is a problem with almost all these techniques, which is that they only describe the top layer of roots, leaving the mysterious depth of darkness behind and beneath.
This trial of fabric manipulations was a little more successful, I think, with horizontal lines adding to the texture. I followed this with an experiment in tie-bleaching a piece of black fabric.

The result was this fantastic ghostly striped image which gives something of the feeling of the dark roots under old trees.

This was my sketch of what it might look like to have this as the background to some more 3D roots under the hall stairs.

Chevron friendship bracelet
with curled upholstery cord

I have been exploring the way friendship bracelets are made recently, and wondered if I could use this knotting technique to make something root-like. Here are my two attempts:

After making these, I was lucky enough to go to South Africa on holiday. This produced lots of ideas images for my sketchbook, and below there are a few relevant to the roots theme book:

Zulu village fence made of branches stuck into the ground

Below left - Zulu hut before thatching

                              Eucalyptus tree trunks in the sun.

This is a photo of the branches of a tree, taken through the insect door of my tent. The combination of regular rectangles and the predictable/ unpredictable angles of the branches appealed to me in much the same way as root do visually, and so I drew it, and then explored this more in embroidery and net-making with silver yarns of various thinknesses (below).

I picked up some fronds of two plants while on the beach, and explored how they could be woven together into a flat piece:

By this time my ideas about roots had merged with some of my ideas about how to represent my identity as a more or less complex and light-admitting sphere.

This is the latest related image in my sketchbook.

Chicago essay

I've finally finished off the essay about Judy Chicago today, and have a few reflections about this endeavour.

The experience of intellectual focus on an artist:
On the practical side, the essay came out at 2200 words in the end (not including the bibliography), but there remains so much more to say and think about. As is often the case, the more I find out about someone, the more I find interesting.  However, the life and work of this artist in particular led me away from studying how an artist works with textiles, and since I am doing this course to learn the skill rather than the theory, and I am very much missing the practical aspects of previous modules, this experience is steering me away from doing the art history module.

Research process:
Like feminist commentators I read during this project, I found relatively little commentary other than on Chicago's website. Chicago's shows were generally put on by herself or in collaboration, rather than being curated by institutions. As far as I can tell, the most prestigious institution to be involved was in London as late as 2012. Critical commentaries on the internet are few and far between. Whether this reflects critical opinion of the overall importance of her work, or the prejudice described by feminist art historians, or something else, I cannot tell. It may be that respect for her will grow with time. Or it may be that I am one of the dinosaurs and feminist issues will come from a different perspective for future generations.

I went to the Barbican Library which had two books about her work by one author, which were relatively uncritical (and in one case written for an exhibition), and some of her own autobiographical writings. While it was useful to find out her own thoughts about her work and motivation, these books had limited ability to illuminate either her relation to the artistic and political environment she was in, or her influence on subsequent generations. In fact, you could infer that the lack of apparent commentary suggests a lack of influence. Which leads me to ask - if that is the case, why is she on the OCA list of artists? I don't know what to think. Is the list itself another example of women artists trying to redress a historical imbalance in knowledge of and reference to female endeavour?

The presentation of the essay:
My researches into the political and artistic milieu of the 1960s and 70s led me to explore McLuhan's 'the medium is the message'. IE that it is the implicit information which is important in an image or idea. There is a lot of mileage in thinking about this more. But for this essay, I thought about how the presentation could reinforce Chicago's message about the central celebration of women through the 'central core imagery'.

I initially thought about printing it on A3 paper, with 'butterfly vagina's' from The Dinner Party in the centre, opening out like a flower onto the next page. However, since this is an essay where the important information is in the writing, and this would have required the written words to be pushed to the corners of the pages, I decided against this presentation.

My compromise solution was to print the essay onto a background of these images, allowing them to decorate and underly the narrative. This worked out well on the page about her legacy, as it allowed me to symbolically superimpose an image of a current art students' work about the external construction of female identity on top of Chicago's image.

The celebration of the central position of women in human culture:
This has to be a good thing and through the research and essay process, I have been trying to think of a better way to do this in art than the way Chicago did it - and I have not been able to think of a better way. Hers was a truly grand project, apparently from the very beginning, and she knew it.

Influence on my work:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, reading about feminist ideas about art and the art world, has tapped into part of me which has been relatively unexpressed. This has led to a variety of more or less subtle images of my female identity in my sketchbook. These ideas come from both ends, as it were - from the contextual side, or from the more 'pre-verbal' identities that come out during explorations of texture and three-dimensionality. My head likes the first, and my stomach likes the second. I don't know if it's possible or even adviseable to try to do both. I suspect that my 'natural' style, and certainly the one that appeals most to me in art, is the second. Perhaps I should have chosen to study Magdelena Abakanowicz instead! Time to explore her more later.

My female identity is a complicated thing, as it is tied up with all sorts of other issues, including my decision to do a course in textile art rather than fine art, and the pursuit of art as self-exploration, hobby or profession. My ideas have been focussed by this train of thought, and I am now feeling more confident about taking it seriously as future profession.

I have started by looking at some group shows by textile artists, and subscribing to craft magazines, circulation lists for galleries and competitions that include textile art. But the biggest change is in my head - that I am a 'developing artist' rather than just a student.