31 January 2012

Assessment, before and after

Before the assessment - my three sections - reflection (the notebooks and the blog posts); resolution (the 'journey lines' laid to rest in the form of a book and as screenprinted bags); and regeneration - the ashes of past projects.
Not all that much 'work' to get 'feedback' on - unless you count the blogging as various books with a specific kind of content - they do include narrative, sequence, structure, after all. But for the assessors to make a "story" out of this presentation would take a little work on their part.

Sometimes you get too wrapped up in your idea of what's needed, and miss seeing the wood for the trees. Never mind, it's done and dusted - this is what I found on returning to collect the work -
Valuable for me in terms of the review involved - the salvaging of things that are still relevant - the desire to do "something else" (still related to everyday journeys and/or travelling on the underground) - and now, being free to move on.

We have to wait a couple of weeks to get our feedback - the assessors have to write up their notes...

Sketchbook Project 2

Two views, under different lighting conditions, of the Sketchbook Project book that went into the mail yesterday. Of course it was a bit last-minute - it had to be scanned in before sending off, for possible future copies in a limited edition.

The title page reads:

Eleven London Underground lines 

Bakerloo line, Central line, Circle line, District line, Hammersmith & City line, Jubilee line, Metropolitan line, Northern line, Piccadilly line, Victoria line, Waterloo & City line 

from Epping in the north to Morden in the south 
from Upminster in the east to Amersham in the west 

and at the end, the colophon:
twice 402 km of track 
at an alleged average speed of 33 km/hr 

a timeline of 24.5 hours of travelling 
extended by time spent at stops 

270 stations 
visited and revisited, duly noted 

margaret cooter 
london, uk 
july 2011 - january 2012 

The maps inside the covers (important for non-Londoners, I felt) are different versions - April 2011 and August 2011 (another kind of time-travel - about the same span of time as it took me to finish the project). Looking carefully will show that more stations have step-free access, and that a new connector is under construction.

Pencils on the bell curve

Harriete Estel Berman asked people to send her their used pencils - and this is what she did with them -
The project is written about in American Craft magazine; read more about it on her website. It'll be on show in Palo Alto, CA, in March.
Her whole family got involved with the project - which is about marking and standardization, and what a superfluity of measurement is doing to education.

30 January 2012

Assessment preparation

With rather less than 24 hours to go till the "curated" work and reflective journals lie ready on the table for the Unit 1 Assessment, I am feeling almost ready - almost but not quite! So much more could be done... but it is always thus. There comes a point when you have to tell yourself to STOP. (For me, it's usually about 10 minutes before the deadline.) However with some hours yet in hand, I'm using this blog post to think-out-loud about what's done and what still needs doing.

The reflective-journals bit wasn't difficult - it's taking ages, though. First I made subject files from the blog posts over the past 16 months. Some files ran to over 200 pages, so they ended up as several "books" (held together by clips rather than proper binding (it's quicker...). Printed two pages to the sheet, they become a manageable size -
The larger categories are Artists & Exhibitions (6 books so far) and Book du Jour (2 books) - Reading&Research is also ongoing and only just fits into one clip. Some of the finished projects are japanese-bound: Structure project, Text project, Place-encounter-time project, Skybirds, Black Books, Screenprinting, the Route book. Other ongoing projects are Un-writing; What the camera sees; Materials project. This year I've not been diligent about recording "this week at college" - there are notes in the notebooks but very little on the blog, in comparison to my extensive reports of lectures and seminars in the first year of the course.

Still to find and print - Travel Bags project (which includes some of the screenprinting, and the pre-xmas pop-up shop). Estimated time: 1 hour.

Also needing printing - January's additions to the ongoing blog books. Estimated time: 1 hour.

Another part of the reflective journals are the notebooks, in which I write "everything" in chronological order, making a non-alphabetical index as I go along. (If there is time I will cut up the photocopied indexes to have all the categories from the books together (eg, lectures; reading; exhibitons... Retyping it all to amalgate the indexes would be a waste of time and energy.)
In the bottom two books you can just about see the little red dots folded over the edges of the pages -- these mark useful passages, things that have relevance or interest for me at this point. IF there is time, I'd like to go through yet again and write some of these into ... a book ... or onto a scroll ... They'd made an inspirational collection, something that might help me keep focus. But first, the other books need tidying up (loose papers gluing in, etc) and marking with dots. Estimated time: 3 hours.

So much for reflective journals - and I really have tried to be reflective (and critical), to make myself think and analyse when looking at exhibitions or having an idea for a new project. A big part of doing a course like this is to get beyond "I like/don't like that" (after all, who cares?) and to have more useful things to say than "that's nice" and "that's lovely" - !

Now to the actual works to be shown. Looking through my boxes of "little books" has made me realise how truly little they are --- fun though it was to make them, and however valuable the experience was, I don't want them hanging around and being a drag on future projects. So -
The phoenix phenomenon -
The projects like the "panacea bags" and the screenprinted fabric and papers didn't get thrown into the flames; they may have a different sort of reincarnation.

One outcome I'm very happy with is the resolution of the "journey lines" in two ways. First, the "travel bags", which explain what the lines and words are all about, if the viewer does a bit of reading and thinking. And the latest Sketchbook Project contribution, Along The Lines - the 11 underground lines, written in their entirety, in both directions - in alphabetical order (Bakerloo, Central, Circle...Victoria, Waterloo&City). There wasn't time for DLR and Overground - that would have added another 95 stations to the 270 underground stations, and goodness knows how much track length to the 402 km (x 2) already covered. The book is filled - just the title and colophon to add, and into the post it goes. A replica, reformatted as a concertina book, will be one of the works at the assessment.
Than again, it might be the only work, apart from the ashes ... and the reflection ...

29 January 2012


The latest exhibition at the British Library (till 13 March) has many, many wonderful illuminated manuscripts (about 150). Quite apart from the beautiful pages spread open for view, there is the intrigue of "what's in the rest of the book", and hints at its binding. Such riches - too much to take in at once.

The books on show belonged to kings and queens of England during the period from Alfred (871-899) to Elizabeth I (1558-1603). They offer, says the exhibition blurb, "unique insights into the lives and aspirations of those for whom they were made". 
Photos are from the exhibition website
At the start of the exhibition is a brightly lit section with some technical explanation - and samples of vellum and parchment that you can touch - the best way to understand the difference between them! Then you go down the stairs into a darkened room with red walls where the light shines into the vitrines and onto the books - so dramatic - the people leaning over the glass cases become silhouettes, ephemeral among these very old books that took so much time and skill to make.

28 January 2012

Erasure poetry

There is actually a genre called erasure poetry, says Wikipedia, is a form of found poetry created by erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the result on the page as a poem. The results can be allowed to stand in situ or they can be arranged into lines and/or stanzas.

Among its examples it includes Jen Bervin's Shakespeare sonnets, Nets -
Doris Cross's dictionary columns (1956) were among the first examples. 'Doris Cross starts her work with columns from a 1913 Webster's dictionary. She then adds and subtracts elements using pencil and white paint, simultaneously creating and excavating meaning from the once-neutral pages of words and definitions. "Found words then comprise the statement" Cross writes in her opening statement, "words as objects, textures, movements, spaces, sounds; words supporting words, even as a column is built of mortar and stones." '
Other examples are Janet Holmes' The    ms of m y kin (poems of Emily Dickinson)-

But the practice of erasure was most famously realised by the British artist Tom Phillips in his book A Humument and later, by the American poet Ronald Johnson, who erased Milton's Paradise Lost into a book called Radi os.
Version held at Patrick Spencer Library, University of  Kansas
See more work by yet more people here. Probably the earliest example is Man Ray's untitled work of 1924 (found here) -
It looks easy, it looks fun - perhaps too many people are doing it - or perhaps erasure poetry is a good way to get people involved with manipulating language.

Book du jour - re-written pages

Pages torn out of a book (the rest of book, a "travel journal" - what was I thinking, I don't do that kind of travel! - went on to another life via the charity shop). I'm writing on them in four directions, so that by the time they are "full" they'll be completely illegible.

"Why are you doing this?" someone asked me - and I really had to think about it!

First of all, I'm doing it because I want to see what the pages look like when they've been written on in four directions. Another reason is the possibility of varying the format of the writing in another set of pages, and getting different looks ... maybe having the lines more visible - I have lots of ideas for this (exploring nuance). These pages provided a challenge in that they had wide-apart lines and writing in that kind of spacing was a difficult at first, though I'm enjoying making all those large loops now. It started out as a finite piece, just a few pages to fill - a containable project - with the prospect of using handwriting as a medium for a kind of drawing; something enjoyable to do.

Apart from the process of writing, I wanted to have a portable, and private, place for putting down my thoughts. The crossing-over provides that privacy, especially when I'm working through something that's troubling or difficult. I find that getting the thoughts out of my head, through writing, is useful -- and that it's not at all important to re-read them; in fact, they're better not re-read, and sometimes you have to write the same things many times before they leave completely. Will the content give the pages an "aura" of some sort?

These pages thus kill two birds with one stone - something visual is made out of something ephemeral. Plus, they re-use something that would have been thrown away - just a few sheets of paper, it's true - this bit of recycling won't save the world! - but it's yet another level of care that goes into the work.

The notion of erasure, over-writing, re-writing - deletion, cancelling, obliteration - is rattling round in my brain a lot at the moment, especially given the reaction to my "un-written" journals in the studio show at college. Why would anyone take so much time to cross out what has been written ... if getting rid of it is the aim, why not just burn it?

Pictures from an exhibition

The book arts and printmaking one-day show in the studio yesterday got an influx of visitors in the late afternoon - was it the wine and nibbles that drew them? It was good to chat with people from other areas of the college, and to see our work in a different situation. As someone said, having it on display  really changes it, and how you yourself look at it.

Most of the exhibitors were on hand for a group photo -
Left to right: Xizhi, Misa, Di, Abi, Tian, Margaret, Janet, Jian, Victoria, Estelle, Mariane, Maya, Katherine, Jo.

27 January 2012

Art I like - Pip Culbert

The late lamented Fiberarts magazine featured the work of Pip Culbert in Nov/Dec 2010 -
She cuts away fabric and leaves just the seams - arguably the most important part of the garment or other textile structure (without which it would not exist) - but often disregarded in terms of its function ("the invisible support").

As well as garments and bags, she does flags and tents -
See more photos here 
and quilts -
From Joanne Mattera's art blog


 Peeling back the layers of old posters at Warwick Avenue station.

Setting up a show

Book arts and printmakers are getting together to show some work in the studio - thanks to Estelle getting things going.
"A chance for students, technicians, teachers to to know each other and about their idea, question, experience."

We set up yesterday; the get-together is today at 3pm, a great way to end the week -
Janet and I have combined her gold books and my black ones, and I'm showing some "erasure" and some "line as text" -
Works by printmakers, with whom we share the studio but hardly ever see (they are in the print rooms, working!) are interspersed with the book arts exhibits.

24 January 2012

Coffee shops of London

Much as I love going to the Algerian Coffee Stores in Soho, it would be much handier to buy fresh ground coffee close to home. Camden isn't too far away, though. I've not been inside this shop, but am told it's very old fashioned. Must go soon, before the economic exigencies of the 21st century catch up with it...

London view

Looking across the Thames to St Pauls, from Tate Modern - through a plantation of birch trees. Round about dusk, of a winter's evening.

I had a look at the Artist's Room with pieces by Joseph Beuys, including his huge bolt of lightning, and on the way to the cafeteria found another room with "Objects of War" - some vitrines and some tv screens, on which people were telling the stories of the objects, with English subtitles. This is by Lebanese artist Lamia Joreige. Headphones are provided so you connect with the person through their voice, but I merely stood watching and reading till the particular story ended - how the young woman's identity card lost one of its pages. The words - translation - are out of synch with the speech, but gave a different fascination to watching her tell her story about this object that is important to her - but is now in a museum. She told about coming face to face with Israeli soldiers for the first time, and about her friend searching the mutilated bodies of other soldiers to find their identity cards, so that the families could at least know for certain about those men. It ended up being quite a "heavy" afternoon in terms of looking/thinking, so taking a landscape photo was a bit of light relief!

23 January 2012

Moan on Monday - continuing chaos

While the bathroom work is underway, the studio is a dumping ground - bikes removed from the hallway so that boards can be stored there; fittings piled in front of fabric cupboards and bookshelves; some of the toolboxes kept here so that the builder actually has room to move -
 Sometimes the workbench gets cleared, and usually my desk is accessible, so I mustn't moan too much -
Apart from the physical inconvenience, the insidious effect is the mental confusion that any sort of renovation entails. Entire cupboards are rendered inaccessible. Things get moved around several times and you can't find what you need. There seems no place to get away from the extra people in the house. You can't really settle down to doing any one thing, and even if you plan to, gathering up what you need can be a frustrating exercise. I am spending more time on the computer, when I want and need to be getting on with studio work  in some sort of systematic way. Still, this could be a good time to do reading and research and thinking. Enough of the moaning, then!

But the infrastructure stages of the work seem to take forever! Maybe the job will be finished in January - maybe not ...

Selling well

...at London Art Fair -- ceramics by Katherine Morling, priced at around £100.

Her degree show at the RCA in 2009 was striking - see it here.

22 January 2012

Page du jour - coffee bag

As my book arts course moves into Phase 2 - concentration on the final project - my task is to focus on the "lines" themselves (I'll worry about the structure of the eventual "book" later). So instead of making books, I'm making pages, trying out materials and how to make lines (visual "text") with them.

A coffee bag was lying on the desk and a dressmaker's wheel was to hand, so I opened up the bag, added more folds, and went at it from both sides to make a variety of punctured lines. Couldn't resist sprinkling a bit of thread on it, and adding coloured reflections -

Art I like - Rudolf Stingel

This piece, happened upon in the quest for whatever-it-was, interested me because of its use of line -
It seems to be about .... nothing ... a monochrome  - but with undertones perhaps?

Whereas there's definitely an agenda with this (large) untitled piece from 2007 (which, incidentally, sold for over £300K) -
Three such gold-on-gold paintings were shown at the Whitney Museum in 2007 - in a room with a mirrored floor. Stingel says: ‘Artists have always been accused of being decorators, so I just went to the extreme and painted the wallpaper.' He 'presents us with a lavishly influenced rococo painting done in gold oil paint, creating a visual effect questioning the perfection of the Damask pattern and the distinctive expectation of the medium. Texture, composition and design, all loosely yet meticulously rendered onto the canvas, make this a signature piece for Stingel's contemporary artworks.'

From what it says about a 1989 work on the Saatchi site, he can fall into the 'relational aesthetics' camp: 'Though Rudolph Stingel’s work isn’t presented on traditional canvases he is a painter in the purest sense. Through his instructional photographs and installations, his work explores the essence of making, gesture, and expression through questioning authenticity and authorship. Often inviting the audience to interact with his work, Stingel promulgates the artistic process, allowing his artworks to develop as public ‘collaborations’. Through reconsidering the appreciation of aesthetics as a relational experience, Stingel challenges ideas of cultural hierarchy, modes of production, and the mythology of the artist.' [a laudable agenda, I think!]

A recent article in Frieze magazine says: 'Rudolf Stingel has made a career dancing around the idea of painting. He skirts its authority by looking at its components, its physical identity, its visual language and its history. Representation, abstraction, process, pattern, performance, subjectivity and the audience are all his subjects.'

Shoe mystery

Tree mystery

21 January 2012

Seminal work

As one develops one's creative work, certain pieces mark big steps, or even turning points. One of mine was the making of this "Boring Box" in a course at City Lit about ten years ago. The project was to make a box that expressed an emotion.
"Boring" isn't exactly an emotion, but I really worked on eliminating its opposite ("interesting") through using elements that I felt were boring - columns of (meaningless) numbers, endless repetition, words that restated the obvious, and neutral colours.
This was the first time I used a subtractive process rather than an additive one. Later I came across the saying by Saint-Exuprey that "perfection is finally attained when nothing more can be taken away" (rather than nothing more can be added) - but now I wonder ... would this perfection actually be boring, rather than satisfying?


Some pages from my "graphite book" - experiments with darkness, 9B and 6B. The white areas were covered with torn masking tape -

On some pages, the masking tape is part of the "finished" page (but can make it too fussy) -
Incising lines before adding the graphite seems to have potential -
I loved the poster for the Graphite exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge -
And in the exhibition, the range of forms of graphite -