31 October 2013

Poetry Thursday - it's Hallowe'en

Getting in the Hallowe'en mood, Primrose Hill

All Hallows’ EveBy Dorothea Tanning

Be perfect, make it otherwise.
Yesterday is torn in shreds.
Lightning’s thousand sulfur eyes
Rip apart the breathing beds.
Hear bones crack and pulverize.
Doom creeps in on rubber treads.
Countless overwrought housewives,
Minds unraveling like threads,
Try lipstick shades to tranquilize
Fears of age and general dreads.
Sit tight, be perfect, swat the spies,
Don’t take faucets for fountainheads.
Drink tasty antidotes. Otherwise
You and the werewolf: newlyweds.

Source: Coming to That (Graywolf Press, 2011)

Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) started writing poetry in her 80s, having worked as a visual artist (painter, printmaker, sculptor, etc). After the death of her partner of 34 years, Max Ernst, in France in 1976, she returned to the US. Her second collection of poems was published shortly before her death, at the age of 101.

Neat wallpaper

Replica wallpaper from the 1790s parlour at the Geffrye Museum. The preferred look in the 1790s was "neat" - which meant bright and stylish as well as clean and tidy; this wallpaper and its borders are based on a sample found in a house of the time - the original would have been printed in the 1780s. Here's the entire parlour (from here, where you can also see the other historic rooms of the museum) -

30 October 2013

Carrying on with the colour dictionary

Having made the folding book of photos of the pages of the dictionary, I started glueing together the "fans" of pages
into a spiral, with disappointing results - it was simply too solid. However, it could be twisted into this sort of thing -
Following the "carry it through to the end" rule of art-making research, I persevered and glued all the pages together -
Cutting out the circles involved lining up the centres, holding it all together, and cutting a circle through all layers, which left something quite interesting -
that was further trimmed to get a snake-like object -
The circle needed its centre opening up so it would behave more like the "snake" -
 I haven't cut enough out of the centre, but it's starting to be more like the graceful spiral I imagined -
 It was seeing the configuration of the cut-off that has given me an idea for another possible configuration -
Now it's a matter of printing out the pages again, and trying again.

29 October 2013

Wallaby update

As seen at Chalk Farm tube station last week. Today I learnt the wallaby was seen - indeed, photographed - in Highgate Cemetery. Latest rumour is that it's a pregnant female. Good luck to her!

"Estuary" at Docklands Museum

On the final day of the show, we went, and it was definitely worth it. Twelve artists exhibited photos, paintings, prints, and films/videos - we watched every minute of them.

Strictly speaking, estuary is where the river meets the sea, but some of the works, such as the film of a journey upriver, also drew from the river's upstream reaches. But it was two films of the wide expanse of water that interested and involved me most.

William Raban's "Thames Film" (1986) included the sea forts - defences during WW2 against German bombers using the river to navigate inland. Then, they had gun turrets; later they were used for monitoring tides; now they are abandoned, rusty and dusty, strange and glorious -

Stephen Turner - who is currently living in an egg-shaped boat - spent 36 days alone in one of these towers in August/September 2005, 36 days being the length of a tour of duty during the war - "the work is a kind of homage to these men," he says. He cleared detritus and pitched his tent, then documented his stay at seafort.org with webcam and blog. "The Seafort Project was an artistic exploration of isolation, investigating how one's experience of time and place changes in isolation, and what creative contemplation means in a twenty first century context."
Stephen Turner talks about Sea Fort on this video
The work was presented on two screens, one written extract per day and an associated photo, sometimes several photos. It moved slowly, I thought at first, but on sitting down and deciding to watch the whole thing, I realised that this slowness reflected the passage of time in his isolated tower. The things he found - old printed fabrics used as rags, newspapers from 1957, pin-up girls - started to form their stories in your mind.

It was fascinating to find out that the men would "escape" the tower by going fishing at the lower levels, and that workshop activities - knitting and embroidery among them - were compulsory to counter "fort madness"; the biweekly shows of work were very popular.
"Unravelling" on the artist's blog
My other favourite in the show was John Smith's Horizon (2012), a film of the sea itself, its shifting light - sometimes with a background of the sound of the waves, each wave bringing a new view of air/horizon/water. Hypnotic, beautiful, and not without humour - or, unexpected things that make us laugh. Smith got the idea of filming the sea when he was sitting at Turner Contemporary (in Margate), looking out at it: "what a great perspective." Every image is "completely a straightforward representation", but a lot of it looks very artificial.

John Smith on Horizon (Five Pounds a Belgian) from Argent Films on Vimeo.

More info and pix from the exhibition are in this review. Featured artists are Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen, Christiane Baumgartner (Medway), John Smith, Andrew Kötting (Jaunt, 1995), William Raban, Simon Roberts (Pierdom), Michael Andrews (The Estuary, Mouth of the Thames), Gayle Chong Kwan (The Golden Tide), Jock McFadyen (Dagenham, 2006), Peter Marshall and Stephen Turner - and the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, doing things among and on abandoned barges in 1985 that would inflame Health&Safety today.
Bow Gamelan Ensemble, playing as the tide comes in

28 October 2013

Monday miscellany

"Barn the Spoon" has a little shop in Hackney; he sits in the window and whittles
See the video at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22467510
Moan on Monday: it's so annoying when instead of having a website an artist has only a facebook link. Not everyone in the world, or even in the art world, is on facebook. In fact probably a sizeable proportion of people who buy art occasionally - ie, older people, "grey money" - don't want to be on social media, though they're otherwise ok with using a computer.

(via) LAND is Los Angeles Nomadic Division, "contemporary public art projects for Los Angeles
and beyond"; see more of Rob Fisher's work at rob-fischer.com

a thought - "Taking traditional objects apart and putting them back together in a new way prompts us to question our assumptions." Found on Judy Martin's blog, here.

Resonant scraps - mysterious, intriguing -
could be the start of something
Other scraps (edges of things): "might be useful sometime"
If you can get to the National Gallery before 24 November, do go see Michael Landy's "Saints Alive". When he arrived in 2010 to be artist in residence, the studio was bare, and he sat at a table and drew. Then he hit on the idea of collaging pictures of saints, and by the time he finished, the studio was completely littered.
Landy at work (via)
The large composite sculptures of saints - which whirr and clank satisfyingly - were cast off site from his drawings. The collages are shown too - and postcards of them are available in the shop -

"Letter Rain" by Gwythir Irwin (held by the Tate) reminds me of some of the work by Mira Schendel currently showing at Tate Modern, especially Graphic Object -
Irwin (1931-2008) was a painter, fabric designer, and maker of collage.

27 October 2013

A quiltlet that might not fly

While pawing through yet another bag of "bits" I rescued these tending-towards-neutral offcuts saved from making journal quilts and bookwraps, thinking they could be part of an A3-sized quilt on a theme I had in mind, onto which would go some of the buttons etc printed onto transfer paper that had turned up some time earlier. Originally this quiltlet was going to be about "sampling, stitching, sewing" ... I had planned log-cabin type borders, in calico/muslin, around little pieces of various samples, with buttons etc ironed onto the neutral fabric. [Sudden thought: why not have the buttons etc images in the centre of the squares...]

But these bits cried out to be used, so I laid them out and then ransacked the rest of the bag to find patches for the missing areas and to improve the design. The bits are all quilted, and need some way of being put together - and the title that is running through my head in relation to this is along the lines of "Sampling, stitching ... piecing, patching ... making, mending".

The problem is, it looks too busy, too last-century. It'll probably stay laid out, on the shelf, till the deadline has passed, and the bits will go back into the bag. Some of my best (most useful, most compelling, most inspiring) materials are the scraps and bits - it's the quintessential link with the patchwork heritage.

Four from the bookshelf

These books, by sisters Roberta Horton and and Mary Mashuto, were published in the early 90s. I thumbed through to see what has dated and what still has appeal for me.
Plaids on Hand (front) by Roberta Horton, 1989
the back (59" x 47")

Walk on the Wild Side by Marion Ongerth, Berkeley, CA, 1988
 Two quilts about the Japanese-American experience in WW2 - of being sent away to internment camps -
Exodus: April 1942 by Donna Egan Holt, Villings, MT, 1990
Letting Go by Naoko Ann Ito, Berkeley, CA, 1990
 Next, a pleasant quilt, though I'm not sure about the tilt -
Dawn for a New Day by Mary Mashuta, 1993
Eye-opening use of African fabrics -
Trois Poissons by George Taylor, Anchorage, Alaska, 1994
A nice simple colour scheme -
Hope: A View from Broadway Terrace by Roberta Horton, 1992
 Some mended items - "no attempt has been made to hide the repairs, perhaps because the object is utilitarian. Each repair results in an enhancement in the sense that the item is now unique; it's unlike any other of its kind. In a strange way, the repair is often beautiful" -
 Finally, isn't this amazing fabric -


The Higgs boson has now been discovered, and it's old news that Peter Higgs has taken a Nobel prize -- but just what IS this tiny, rare particle? Find out about it through the videos on richannel.org, which include this animation, which playfully explores the Large Hadron Collider through a crack squad of protons, who dutifully wing themselves around the central collider tubes to perform experimental collisions -

New Scientist magazine has a bevy of clearly-written articles on all aspects of the Higgs boson here - to read some you need to subscribe, but many of the shorter ones are free to access.

26 October 2013

Limpets at home

While looking for drawings of seashells online, I came across this photo of limpets (from here) -
Those circles are known as "home scars" and they are made over the years as each limpet returns, after grazing in a zig-zag pattern when the tide is in, scraping tiny organisms off the rock with its rasping tongue, to its exact place on the rock. When the tide is out they cling to the rock ... like limpets ...
Patella ferruginea can be 8cm across (via)

Pictures at an exhibition (LIP)

The 25th London Independent Photography exhibition. A very crowded preview, and lots of pictures to see, chosen from many many more submissions.
by Dragana Lasizi - her grandmother's sewing machine; she used it to escape
poverty during the Communist era - it was her tool for freedom
Photos taken every 4 minutes; the dark ones seem, from the captions,
to be where interesting things were happening.
We thought this would work better as a book.
"Photoautomat" by Sarah Peters. Definitely these are portraits.
Click on the image to enlarge and read the captions.
On the other side of the far wall are large portraits of tattooed people,
had the owner of the tattooed arm known... 

25 October 2013

Marisa Merz at the Serpentine Gallery

It's a shame to waste good weather - what better than a little expedition to the Serpentine Gallery, which is in the middle of a nice park, and in its four rooms usually has an exhibition big enough to satisfy or small enough to hurry through, depending on whether the work appeals to you or not.
Since the 1970s Merz has shown her work only in a particular way (via)
The work of Marisa Merz was a surprise. Born in 1926, she was a member - the only female member - of the Arte Povera ('poor art') group, whose exhibitions took place around Italy in the late 60s and early 70s. These artists, using the detritus of the industrial age, really brought "unconventional" materials into mainstream art.
These two are now in the Tate's collection
The exhibition has several pieces made of, or including, knitted copper wire - and some smaller pieces which incorporate steel knitting needles or longer rods and the (circular) knitting looks like it's still in progress. Some slippers made of nylon cord are tacked up in a corner, and she's also done flat pourings of wax on which other objects lie, as if on a tablecloth. 
One room in the Serpentine show, with clay heads on wax and on plinths
I was less excited by the drawings and paintings, which hover between abstraction and figuration. Some were made very recently. Five decades of making art is quite an achievement in itself, with work exhibited here, there, and everywhere.

Merz wasn't given to thinking of titles for her works, but this one is known as "Living Sculpture" -
The photo shows it as seen in the Tate; in the Serpentine too it was hanging in a corner, with some of the tubes almost reaching the floor and the "knotty bits" up near the ceiling. It was first shown in her home in Turin in 1966 - it's made of strips of aluminium foil. She is quoted as saying 'There has never been any division between my life and my work'.

The show is on till 10 November - see serpentinegalleries.org. An illustrated review of her exhibition at Fondazione Merz (set up to show the work of her late husband, Mario Merz, in 2005) is here.

Art I like - Susan Jane Dunford

These two postcards have been floating around in my visual resources file (or rather, pile) for about four years now. The one on the left was a source for some work during the foundation course, and I love the way the various boundaries of the house - or castle? - make mysterious spaces.

The works are small, 12 cm and 15 cm high; their maker, Susan Jane Dunford, is a jeweller, making sculptural boxes and jewellery inspired by old architecture - dreaming spires, chapels, birdhouses, porches, terraces, manors, beach huts.
This turret earring stand is on her website - very fairy tale!

24 October 2013

Developing practice course - session 2

The third session is nearly upon us (2 November) and this post has been languishing as a draft for a few weeks now! I had hoped to report on visits to other museums as well, so will be making a serious effort in the next few days...

In the second session we spent the morning at the Hunterian Museum (Royal College of Surgeons), finding things to draw - perhaps some of the specimens, perhaps the very jars they were in, perhaps surgical instruments; it involved looking, considering, selecting, being spoilt for choice...
The Glass Gallery, on two floors; comparative anatomy above, pathology below (via)
First we had a short lecture about the history of the museum. Hunter had a huge establishment in Leicester Fields in 1783 - he trained surgeons (they did dissecting in winter only); his wife held soirées - with a lecture theatre and museum. He died in 1799, having spent tremendous amounts of money on buying the best jars (lead glass) for his specimens and similar extravagances; his wife managed to sell the collection to the nation for £15,000, and as the protracted deal was going on, his assistant William Clift looked after it. I like to think that some of the labels are in his writing. Richard Owen was custodian 1827-56, then two Pearsons, and Jessie Dobson 1947-72.

The galleries were once five times the current size, taking over the entire ground floor of the building. In 1941 there was a direct hit by a bomb, and 2/3 of the collection was lost. It has since been augmented so that there are no 60,000 specimens, 4000 of which are on show.

Even 4000 specimens, in jars and otherwise, are a lot of look at. After wandering about, bedazzled, I started making notes and finally started a bit of drawing. It takes a while to get started, and suddenly it's time to stop!
Forceps/scissors for microsurgery and for laparascopic surgery (not to scale)
Back at college, an afternoon of discussion about the experience - information collected in small groups -
What chimed with me was the historic aspects of the evolution of the collection; the fitting of the refurbishment to give it "sparkle" and make the display look impressive; the mystery of the objects, in their limbo - eg how are diseased specimens related to healthy ones, and what are these structures that have been taken out of bodies; speculating on what brought other visitors to see this; that the glass isolated objects and put them far out of reach; the human effort spent in collecting and preserving the specimens. I'm still thinking about "things that take you back to what attracts you about the way you work" (that's what's written in my book, and I sort of know what it's meant to mean...); figuring that out will lead to ... something ...

Most interesting was seeing examples of everyone's work.
Karen's books I knew about, from Camberwell; Sylvia brought in
a textile and some digital cards based on it
Sara's monoprints are a combination of linocut and stencils;
 "the fondue collection" is one of 
Ilana's jewellery lines
 Pam's textiles include "the five ages of woman";
Marianne makes floor tiles and wallpaper
John's basket purports to be woven around a fossilised emu egg; Rose's devoré textile is backed with vivid handmade felt
Rachel showed work from her website and talked about the effect of colour. I showed how the "painted dictionary" could evolve into related objects (books?).

And now we've been sent a little "homework" - an article to read before the next session, the introduction to New Museum Theory and Practice.