30 June 2012

Things found in books

 At the Oxfam bookstore -
Pinned to "A Subaltern's Love-song", a newspaper photo of Miss J Hunter Dunne - immortalised by the poem.
She was a Hampshire doctor's daughter, born in 1915, and lived to the age of 92. She was once stood in a corner at school for putting butter on one side of the bread and jam on the other.

Final textile degree show

It's sad that the degree course offered by the Julia Caprara School of Textiles has been shut down. I was able recently to go to its final show, at Middlesex University, and to meet Judy Martin there. It was a sunny day, the show looked wonderful, and at one point we were four Canadians sitting round a table chatting.
"The horizon line gives us a heaven"
Judy writes about the final stages of the making of the work here, and the installation here. Its transparency is perhaps less effective in an urban setting than in the wilds of Canada...

Judy shows the work of the other graduates on her blog, judys-journal. Viki Jenkins' "How do I express feminity" (see pix here) struck me as a witty way of using self-portraiture, using layered organza, with the added layer of a mirror behind them in the box frame, to bring the viewer literally into the picture. They were presented in a row, in small white frames, which worked well, but comes with an important decision: how high should they be hung, so that viewers really do see themselves in the picture?
unfortunately you lose a sense of scale when photos are juxtaposed like this
"Continuum" will be shown in Oakville, Ontario, 2-18 November.

29 June 2012

From the archive - travel diary

You get to the airport and realise you don't have your sketchbook! The only thing available there is a book of blank postcards. It will have to do. 

Greece, 1994. Athens, Naupilon, Mycenae, Olympus, places like that. Interesting bus rides. Thanks, Juliet, for dragging me there - you swam, I drew... The memories are still vivid (those bells in Poros, and the monastery where women had to put a skirt on if they were wearing jeans) - not to mention my scary descent from Palamidi (via steps) in a windstorm -
photo from a wonderful set here

28 June 2012

Al-Mutanabbi Street project

This project, which consists of artists' books made in response to the 2007 car bombing in Baghdad's street of booksellers, has vacancies and I have applied. The original call for proposals showed a photo of the charred remains of the street
and this immediately (and viscerally) brought to mind the charred quality of my inky books; seconds later I knew what I wanted to make, and how this fits in with "loss of memory" (not that it would be made as part of my college project).

I have applied to be part of the project, and intend to make "the book" in any case - something very inky, possibly curled, perhaps using tissue paper, perhaps with writing showing through the ink here and there, perhaps with pages stuck together, probably with some thread somewhere ... not sure of the details, but I'm very sure of the concept to be communicated, and the starting point.

Friday book market, 2006, and bombing aftermath, 2007
You can see some of the artists books already made at al-mutanabbistreetstartshere.

Book du jour - ball of words

Is it a book? It has sequence - of almost-random words and phrases - but not really a narrative. Or rather, a "deep" narrative - it speaks of concealment, of tightly holding on to something secret ... but as the words are cut out of the newspaper, how secret is that? The randomness of the words cut out of context speaks to me of the fractured flow that passes us by, constantly, with bits of it being perceived and forgotten. But loosen your grip, drop the ball - and it flies apart, scattering its contents.

Though I made it blithely, now I find it rather frightening.

27 June 2012

Change of use

Studio - my studio - becomes carpentry shop - his carpentry shop, and the pillar drill gets lots of use. I'm told this is "only for two days", and then the dustsheets will be removed.

Meanwhile, he's constantly hoovering up sawdust; meanwhile, I'm learning how to use PowerPoint as part of preparing a seven-minute talk, for Tuesday, on how my art practice has evolved throughout the MA course. The role of carpentry will not be mentioned.

Wordless Wednesday

26 June 2012

Book du jour - Brainstorm

We've had some windy days lately and I happened to be out with my camera and took some pix of trees thrashing about. I'd been thinking about the way we can "lose" words the way a tree loses leaves.

The order of the photos wasn't important - until I started darkening them progressively. Next time I do something like this, I'll think first, start at the beginning and be systematic about it! What a lot of bother it's been to make this simple project - an 8-page book, digitally produced, pamphlet bound.

The darkening, over the 7 photos, wasn't sufficiently different between some, and it was difficult to get the sequence right once I arranged the pix on the page. But first I had to figure out the layout - as this was to be printed on tracing paper, it was a matter of printing on one side of half the paper and the other side of the other half.
many false starts and notes-to-self
take care to put the paper into the printer straight!
My first sequence of pix didn't work out, but continuing with that little book till it was finished led forward to a new layout that works - for one copy or several. You can now print two pages, turn the paper over, print the other two - then lay them face down to cut in half horizontally, and pile the lower half on the upper half. Fold. You have the book in the correct sequence. Phew, it took a while to figure out! I found it helpful to put the page numbers in the outer margin, which got cut off.
publication details need to be moved to the end
It needs a title page and publication details, such as they are, and a cover. I used a thin creamy paper for the title and final page, and black card for the cover, quickly assembled with pamphlet stitch.
laser-jet printed on tracing paper

Art I like - Jukhee Kwon

A fellow student last year is having her first solo show! Jukhee (the tall one in the photo) has been wielding her scalpel on old books for nearly a year now. Her show is at La Scatola gallery, near Liverpool Street  till 10 August

This was her spectacular piece at the final show last September -
Now she has a new direction - she's scraped the words off the pages -
The dust-book on the plinth is, you guessed, the words from the book -
"Jukhee Kwon’s work is the accumulative result of a destructive and repetitive process; the individual book, through the artist’s reworking, becomes something monumental, often returning to its original form- from tree to book, from book to tree. In Being, La Scatola Gallery will house a new work by Kwon taking the form of a suspended and overflowing bookcase." Five - or was it six - single books are suspended high up on the pillars around the gallery - you can just about see one in the first photo.

This is "Book Surgery", one of her 2011 works -

From the archive - Indian art

The emergence of spirit and matter
"Garden and Cosmos" at the British Museum in 2009 was a wonderful show. First, large detailed paintings (from Rajasthan) of gardens ... to paintings showing the beginning of the world - from nothingness.

As the press release said: "The two elements of the title, ‘Garden’ and ‘Cosmos’ represent two distinct styles and functions over the period represented in the exhibition. ‘Garden’ presents paintings of palace life, many of them centred on the pleasures of the royal court and including vibrant illustrations of the great Indian epics, especially of the Ramayana. In ‘Cosmos’, we see paintings from the long reign of Man Singh (r.1803-43) which are remarkable as, in their subject matter, they turn away from the glowing exterior world of court life and instead address the interior world of philosophical speculation and the origin of the universe. The precise meaning of some of these paintings is unclear but the large fields of distinctive, brilliantly coloured wave patterns reminds the viewer that surrender to blocks of pulsating colour is not a 20th century European invention."

See more paintings here. The cover of the exhibition catalogue shows elephants cavorting in the rain -

25 June 2012

Which book?

For the upcoming "untutored session" at CQ's summer school at lovely Alston Hall (in Lancashire), I've been going through my bookshelves looking for a book to bring and share with contemporary quilters. One book? I'd like to take all of these -
 Jun Kaneko's ceramics with their wonderful patterns; Munakata's fabulous woodcuts; El Anatsui's scrap-metal "cloths" -- these are all quilt inspiration. And Barbara Lee Smith's "Celebrating the Stitch" (embroidery) is a book I keep going back to with pleasure.

That's not all that's on my shortlist -
Sean Scully is an obvious quilt inspiration, in terms of easy-to-piece shapes, but his colours are an education in themselves. Denise Lach shows how calligraphy can hide, or over-ride, the "text" in "texture". Aboriginal art in its many varieties always amazes me, especially the large-scale work of Dorothy Napangardi - and the little "Twmps" book has David Nash's charcoal drawings of the wonderful hedges at Powis Castle, which I eventually visited on a gloomy November afternoon and photographed but did not draw.

Some of these have a large dose of nostalgia in their selection criteria (and why not?) - the Nash and the Smith (a gift from a friend); the Napangardi (souvenir of trip to Australia); the El Anatsui (another gift); the Munakata (I missed the exhibition); the Lach (linked to my writing/drawing essay).

Four more days before The Book has to be chosen, the suitcase packed...

Moan on Monday - exhibiting art

Hong Young-in's embroidery and its (disturbed) shadow
This picture started me thinking about exhibiting in specific spaces, and how wonderful the plain white wall is when the work has a certain format that needs that plainness - here, it would give the shadow a space of its own.

On the other hand, how interesting to do an installation using what's there in the exhibition space - the pipes and suchlike can either distract or be an important, or perhaps subliminal, part of the work. (This goes back to the idea of "the invisible support" that emerged from my essay last year:  the surface is one of the main elements in reading a drawing, but becomes invisible as the artist makes the work appear; the surface represents, in the words of one writer, an “inscription that ... being largely unread, makes possible the signification of the work of art as art.”)

Tell me about it

The web page on which this photo was found is an essay on the presentation of Korean art in a western context - which to my mind is a parallel to the culture-shift of art students presenting their work to the public in their degree shows. The writer makes the point that the viewer may not know about the Korean traditions that inform the work, and needs information:
"In general, your average punter might come into a gallery not knowing what to think. Looking at the image on the wall, his own mind might be a blank canvas. Artistically inarticulate, he or she needs something, ANYTHING, to help him get started as to how to react to a work."

(Here comes the moan...)

Being "unable to react to a work" usually means dismissing it in one glance and moving on. Even art students feel like this at degree shows, where often no information apart from title ("Untitled" - !) is provided. Sometimes the institution, in search of a standard format to give the show some sort of coherence, doesn't allow further info on the wall labels. Sometimes the student simply can't be bothered to supply it, either on the label or in the catalogue.

Information is your friend

Personally, I like one sentence about the work - the big bad world of  marketing calls this "the elevator pitch". As a person of older bones and eyes, I like this presented in a font size, and at a height, that is easy to read.

As Philip Gowman's essay on presentation of (Korean) art says: "a thoughtful handout to go with the exhibition containing the above basic information is the least that an organiser should invest in to do basic justice to the artist."

He also advocates "to get something original on to the website early in the course of an exhibition to help others start their own thought process about how to react to an exhibition. Whether written by amateur or expert, anything in print in the blogosphere can help."

24 June 2012

Red reconstruction

Thanks to the charity shop at Hampstead Heath, a red cashmere cardigan came my way - the price reduced because of "small hole in sleeve". I'd been walking along thinking about my loss-of-language project and holes-in-the-brain, so it seemed a good idea to take the cardi home in case it could be part of my project - I imagined adding holes to it while sitting around at the final show. Perhaps it would become a sort of performance.  I was thinking about Yoko Ono's "Cut Piece", where the audience cut away her garments - but as my work isn't about crossing boundaries in that way, I wouldn't be asking visitors to the show to snip away at the sweater. I was thinking about making holes and then darning them with invisible thread ... an idea for another time perhaps....

I started wearing the cardigan (we're having a cold spell this midsummer) and now am even more reluctant to destroy it. So cosy! Such a warm colour! But those ruffles ... and the pearl buttons ... they gotta go ...

The next step in this rescue mission is to cut off the ruffles, machine stitch round the edges, and add some 1/4" bias binding. These silks, printed with my journeylines last year, will look quite different as bias binding -
In the surgery and reconstruction, the little hole will disappear and the sleeves will become the right length.

23 June 2012

Thinking ahead, thinking out loud

With the interim bookarts/printmaking show over, thoughts turn to the final show in September - which will be set up in mid-August. Working backward from that, there are various deadlines and tasks:
-have everything in place for the final assessment - by 28 August
-write "the statement" and put together 2000 words of "reflective journal"
-help with binding of catalogue
-have a final tutorial - 18 July
-symposium 2 - a five-minute presentation of work - 3 July
-prepare 85 copies of catalogue page - 29 June
-hand in draft plan for exhibition space - 27 June

The show plan

Everything is linked up, but first things first - the (draft) plan for my space in the show. Seeing these boxes (full of ceramic coils) was the goad to action -
They measured about 40cm square. To fit into a smaller extent of wallspace they would have to be arranged vertically, which means there would be just two of the double cubes - and a single one on the floor (more about that one later). I like how the inner cubes could become light boxes, lit with battery operated LED lights - practicality means trying to avoid having things that plug in. 

If there are to be only two of these spaces, why not make the outside box rectangular, but have same-size cubes (light boxes?) that can be arranged inside the rectangles to leave room for other works as well...

What actual pieces might go in the boxes? Deciding this means spinning tightly the thread that ties the pieces together, so it all hangs together ... (too many metaphors already!)

My "everyday journey of growing older" seems to have suddenly narrowed down to work about the "loss of memory, loss of language" aspect - which is actually the very end of that journey. I'm looking to find a way to pull back from that a bit and incorporate the more positive aspects - for instance, when you're young you look forward to being older so that you'll be taken seriously, or be independent. You look forward to being "a real grownup" and making your own decisions. And by middle age you might have found balance and be able to really enjoy things ... for instance some of my friends are really enjoying their grandchildren, in a way they didn't have time to with their own children, because of having the responsibility of a job and juggling "everything". But maybe this is something to work with "afterwards".

So, the actual pieces. The "overwriting" is one manifestation of the changes to memory ability, and it's this I'd like to have backlit, perhaps something like this - though it might be another piece, another size, on different paper -
ersatz light box
Also I'm developing an idea using dictionary pages - having the words fall out of them ("what was I saying?") -
a drift of words....
The deletion (extreme erasure!) works for maps - "where have you been?" - "how did I get here?" -
can words be scraped off maps, rather than cut out?
For dictionary or maps, I envisage a book format ... details to be worked out in due course, and book(s) to be put in the second cube, which won't necessarily be a light box.

There should be room at the sides of the cubes for ... not quite sure yet ... probably the "balls of words", so tightly-held, so important - but if the ball unravels the consequences are dire ..............
names of people I remember from school days, but haven't seen for many decades
As for the cube on the floor, that's  for me to sit on while I wind names into "the big red ball of connection". Under the bench-cube might be a heap of inky books, representing the burnt-out part of memory ("I've forgotten more than you'll ever know").

The catalogue page

The date for binding the catalogue is 6 July - which means the page is due very soon, um, in six days at time of writing... The location on the flap of the stamp giving our contact details is going to determine where my line of red thread will go, and this placement of the stamp hasn't been communicated yet. My red thread will be pamphlet-stitched into the folded edge of the page, and stitched across to the square page; the other end could be left to dangle ... not sure yet.  85 copies! - the page can be anything we want, but at this point it has to be something simple, something quick. Less is more?

On hearing about Yoko Ono's "yes" painting, I wanted to get a YES onto my page - after all, "yesterday" is rather pertinent to growing older. Several possibilities have already been considered and rejected; it might not happen. It could be "the invisible yes" - ?

Symposium 2

This consists of everyone giving yet another (short) slide talk to the group. It's unaccountably nerve-wracking, even though these are people you see informally...

One of my personal targets was to learn to use PowerPoint for presentations like this. So I have just over a week to do so! Or, not - "beware of any enterprise that requires new clothes" and hurrying to learn something like ppt is a bit like having to find new clothes for some occasion you've never been to before - will they be the right ones? will the new knowledge be accessible when you need it? what if it all goes wrong and you make a fool of yourself?

Or I could forgo the ppt challenge, and take a leaf out of an older book -
flashcards, anyone?

The rest

The rest of the deadlines and tasks seem too distant to worry about just yet. Amid emanations of negativity resulting from various sorts of impositions and pressures, I keep reminding myself that I'm doing an art course from choice, for personal (not career - done that!) reasons - to add richness to my life. To develop a studio practice - somewhere to be, something to do. To surprise myself - where will this "journey" lead?

And yes, I'm surprised by where I am now, by this "ageing memory" topic that has come up from ... somewhere....  It feels like a dark, overgrown bramble-forest, but weeding and reclamation is what I like best in gardening, and so it is with finding a way forward with this. The learning in the course has been about how to find this way forward - and it's not something you learn overnight, nor am I entirely competent in it - but I'm better at being able recognise when a decision is needed, and to winkle out the possibilities that need examining.

From the daily physical journey of commuting, habitual and scarcely noticed - to "everyone's everyday journey: growing older" - using elements of my own story (concern with language, with spatial dislocation, with psychological dimensions of memory and societal notions of information retrieval ... and a bit of family history). Not to forget the aesthetics, and the pleasure in making. The delight of tossing around a new idea - or several at once. Think, DO, assess....

21 June 2012

Book du jour - collating "Seepage"

The pages need to align exactly; this jig helps. Each page is cut individually.

The work proceeds in fits and starts.

20 June 2012

Degree show time

Some glimpses of the Camberwell BA show -
Mysterious yet accessible - Sainte Terre by Sam Davey

Photography projects

Wild! Woodburning, taxidermy,  but mainly painting

Form meets function? Jonathan Lloyd West
At Chelsea, "no photography" of the textiles show, but lots of interesting work - see it here. I remember Reginaldo De Souza's "nails sticking out a wetsuit" garments, and Cara Piazza's natural-dyed garments (the dyestuff sourced and foraged in London) hung on hangers made of twigs and bulldog clips, and the textured ceramic beads-that-might-be-bracelets of Weiyi Liu. Elsewhere, a wall of stitched drawings by Fiona Daly.

These details are from the corridors -
Appropriately wired for the textiles area


These shows continue till 23 June, 10-8 most days. Next up, the Royal College of Art show, and then New Designers. A busy time of year.