31 January 2010

Missed quilt exhibition

Too late to go see Ulla von Brandenburg's show of some super-size quilts, I read a review of it - a rather puzzling review - in Crafts magazine. There are photos of the installation online, on the gallery's website - click here.

Are these "quilts" - or artworks using quilt format? Do they exhibit the skill, the link with tradition, that some say is required in a quilt? Or are they the embodiment of an idea for which "the quilt block", with its associated three-layer stitching, is the best expressive medium? That a video (of grainy-grey images) is shown along with the quilts could be a factor... as is, apparently, the zig-zag path you take through the hanginging quilts towards the video.

Is the message that the lure of technology causes us to ignore the handmade? No, the official view (on the gallery website) is that it's about charting our path through obstacles.

"Your journey echoes the steps of runaway slaves," said the review; "these quilt patterns were developed to aid that escape." Well, there's been a lot of controversy about the Underground Railroad quilts; perhaps the artist has chosen to ignore it, and go with the romantic story - and why not?

A point that won't elude "real quilters" is the link that the big quilting stitches make with the Gee's Bend quilts.

But fabric is just one of the media Ulla von Brandenburg's work embraces, and knowing more about the artists makes a difference to understanding the exhibition. "Ulla von Brandenburg works with different media such as drawing, video, film, space installation and performance. Motives of historic originals are brought forward by the illustration in a current time context and therefore act as filters that switch between the illustration and the viewer" says this site; and here we can read that: "Von Brandenburg adapts the poses and gestures of these representations or perhaps a theatrical quality, which examines the relationship of appearance and reality in abstract manner. In so doing she is less interested in adopting existing content than in formal staging, which exposes a wealth of cultural and representational patterns of interpretation."
Her "Curtain" (shown above at the Frieze art fair) was in the Tate's "The World as a Stage" exhibition in 2007 (another one I missed...). It's "a reconstruction of the patchwork curtain specially designed in 1932 for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratfordupon-Avon. A slight gap where the curtains meet in the middle heightens our sense of the divide between performers and audience, and raises the question: which side are we on?" Below is the way it was displayed at the Tate.

30 January 2010

Art on the Underground

I snapped this several weeks ago and always meant to look up the website the poster it mentions. The site also has info on the other art projects seen in the tunnels and billboards on the underground system.

Jeremy Deller's first idea was to have a day of no announcements on the tube, but obviously that wasn't possible, so he came up with a book of quotes for drivers of trains on the Piccadilly Line to use in their announcements. This was in February 2009, and though I make at least six trips a week on that line, I've not heard a single one....

But then, sometimes you go for weeks without seeing a Poems on the Underground poster.

As for quotes ... how about:

Mend and make do

Living across the road from the supermarket, I don't have to do a big shop on a Saturday morning - and this sunny morning, while a load of washing was churning away, seemed like a good time to get around to mending this favourite bracelet, bought at the Africa Remix show at the Hayward Gallery in 2005. That elastic thread does wear out after a while!

So, an hour later, the job is done. I'd bought some "elasticised" beading thread - transparent but not stretchy enough - and there was a long search among the sewing things for some black elastic, but only turquoise was available. It was now or never for the mending, though - what do you think of the subtle touch of colour?

False twins

Perhaps you have a sense of deja vu - yes, this building appeared in a previous post -While going through old magazines, I found this one - there's a family resemblance -
It's in La Coruna, northern Spain, on a site only 72 feet wide. The facade slopes inward. Read more about it here.

29 January 2010

Sculpture week 4

First off, an impromptu lesson on identifying woods by their grain, density, etc. Although I deeply admire David Nash's knowledge of the qualities of the woods he uses, I have to confess that I didn't take notes on which woods these might be, apart from the squarish block, which everyone agreed was mahogany.And then a lesson on using the melting pots (rubber on the left, wax on the right) -
The missing worksheet turned up and was no great shakes at the start of the day, but much richer at the end. It was a day of quietly working in sketchbooks etc while everyone in turn got final input on their Statement of Intent, so I was able to develop this worksheet on slashing and puncturing paper, a la Lucio Fontana -
The notes speak for themselves -

Who knew a seam ripper could be such a useful tool?
On another worksheet, development of the idea mooted in ceramics class on how a life-size staircase might fit into the teeny space each of us will be allotted -
and another thought - get rid of the cumbersome "door/wall" and have it rising into a corner - simple and beautiful, if it works -
So, how to get it to work? Thought and action. First, some model making of free-floating steps, and how to suspend them -

Stair photography

Graphic image by Sonia Melnikova, one of many interesting artists in the "Art: Recycled and Found" 2006 show here.

Her website shows it's one of a series -
She trained as an architect in Russia and now lives in San Francisco.

27 January 2010

Ceramics week 4

First off, a review of the pieces that are mounting up in my tray - these might be relevant for the final project. Click on the photo to enlarge -During the day, a demo of painting on commercial glazed tiles with overglaze enamel - this got several of us quite excited -But for most of the day I was making staircases.

Result: three - the first of several attempts to come -

Also helpful was some input from the tutor on how a large staircase might represent "inside space" and "outside space" in a display area -And some thoughts on combining the "corners" in long lines ... or stacked up ....I tend to forget about the third dimension, about trying things in different orientations.

Ceramics - before and after

The glazed pieces that went for firing last week -Have come out of the kiln looking like this -And the pieces that went for once-firing to stoneware (thanks, Deborah, for loan of the sand tray!)
came out well -
My camera ran out of space and then out of battery, so I haven't been able to photograph the individual pieces properly. But I spent quite a while figuring out what worked best, and by next week hopefully I'll be able to to do more of what worked best.


This is perhaps the ultimate in "little houses" - it's the reliquary of St Louis of Toulouse, and you can read about the phenomenon of reliquaries here. In among my old photos (real film) are many pix of reliquaries, especially from the wonderful Schnuetgen museum in Cologne.
Often reliquaries are in human form - an arm or a foot holding a relevant bone.

Museum of Everything

A stone's throw from the pastel gentility of Chalcot Square, Primrose Hillis the Museum of Everything, with Exhibition#1 running till 14 February. (It opened at the time of the Frieze art fair in October, and proved so popular it was extended.)
I'm not a big fan of "outsider art" (it can be obsessive rather than interesting) - but there was much to enjoy and think about here. Including the warning signs -
and the commentaries on the work by artists in all media - musicians, even. See a slideshow of 11 works here.

Most of the 200 works in the exhibition were never intended for display - they are "extraordinary works of privacy". The venue - a former dairy and recording studio - has a large space and many smaller rooms - very suitable.

"Outsider art, which can encompass visionary art, naive art, primitive art and folk art (definitions are debatable but the term broadly applies to art produced outside of the influence of mainstream culture and art institutions) has been acknowledged and widely exhibited by the art world since Jean Dubuffet first coined the term 'art brut' (raw art) in the mid-1940s." (Read more of this review here.)

My useful notebook, always to hand, records Eva Rothschild's words: "[Nek] Chand who directly and determinedly made his dreams reality is like a touchstone to return to again and again as a model for how to make and continue making work."

It also notes the names of Leonhard Fink, Emery Blagdon (wonderful wire constructions), Morton Bartlett ("a private man whose passion was creating a fantasy family"), Judith Scott (yarn-wrapped objects), Aleksander Lobanov, Augustin Lesage (35 years a miner, and then her heard a voice...), Martin Ramirez (wonderful patterning), Henry Darger (the Vivian Girls), Forrest Bess - and Richard Wentworth's words, which seem to apply to many of the works: "The nail, chieftan of the wire tribe, always carries with it the weighty sense of purpose of the individual who drove it through the timber."
But the work that most affected me was the painstaking letters of Harald Stoffers to his mother. First he draws lines on the sheet of paper; he has a system. The words are variations on the same theme: telling his mother which trousers he wants to wear. Perhaps it's the words "Liebe Mutti" that ring some distant bells in my pre-English-speaking past. I had to buy the book and read more about him ... it asks, "Who does Harald Stoffers write his letters for?" If they are our concern, it says, perhaps it is because we can understand the experience of everyday writing.

In the exhibition, I held up my notebook, open to some recent "travel writing", in front of one of Stoffers' letters, and asked, "Do you see any sort of similarity here?"

26 January 2010

Raw materials

Unfired clay - these started out joined to make a corner, then were piled on top of each other, suggesting development as a structure with a hole inside. I iked that idea and brought them home to do more work with - but you can see they didn't survive the journey. I still like the idea and plan to cut more out of foamcore and see what kind of structure might emerge...
And what can this be used for? It's an old window blind, and I've removed the bamboo strips carefully, "just in case" the paper can be put to good use. It's very frail - these were up on my sunny windows for years. I like how it's developing windows of its own - can it be glued to something, or sewn perhaps?Here it is again - the encounter with the material, developing an idea from it ... rather than starting with the idea and finding the right material.

Core studies, week 4

The travelogue shows I was late arriving at class - got off the tube at 10.01, and class is supposed to start at 10 - and there's still the escalators to run up, the street to cross, the lifts at City Lit to wait for. Got there in the end, and tried to figure out what to do next with the FMP (final major project). And the SOI (statement of intent), which needs to be finalised in the next day or two.Jo had printed out some wonderful photos of adobe houses -

and a Dogon granary - what a wonderful ladder -
as well as this brick field, a great example of mark making, and contrast -
I'd torn this out of one of my stock of art magazines that are gradually getting recycled -
and this as well, Lucio Fontana's work, which led me to make a worksheet of slashes and punctures, using the seam ripper and bradawl that happened to be in my bulging pencil case -Intending to photograph that worksheet just now, I realised it was either left in the classroom or lost on the way home.

In the library at lunchtime I looked at a very interesting book called Installation Art, published in 1994 (quite a few years ago). These illusionary steps (by David Dye) are made of string and ultraviolet light.
David Dye teaches at Northumbria University - his film "Two Cameras" sounds simple yet fascinating: "The Two Cameras which give David Dye's work its title perform alternate leapfrogging actions as they pursue the same course across a floor. Despite the simplicity of this idea, the image which results as the films are projected side by side presents a complex spatial experience."

Is that something I'm after in my FMP, a complex spatial experience? Every purposefully encountered or casually overheard phrase is likely to get questioning (and questing) scrutiny until the FMP is resolved and the final show is up - eight weeks to go.