31 January 2014

"Museum labyrinth" - second thoughts

Photographing, or filming, a ball of thread making its way through the museum is no longer my first choice of format for this project. I still like the idea of the thread as path - this is connected with labyrinths in or near cathedrals that are walked by the faithful as a form of pilgrimage, and with the mazes that appear in stories as a test of perseverance in the hero's quest.

To abstract the idea - and to get away from the images that photography would produce - I started folding small pieces of paper* -
and then cutting on the folds in various ways and stitching the "path" in each of them. These can be folded to make a variety of "books".
Some of the patterns are unicursal labyrinths, with a straightforward, flowing path - in others the thread doubles back on itself in maze-like byways.
I joined the books by tying the thread ends together, then realised that with a minimum of unpicking they could be sewn together; this involved overlapping the front and back "pages".
 When the entire vigorous thing is unfolded it can lie quietly in layers -
Does this remind you of a map??

*The paper comes from a small but fat, cheap pad of newsprint from Muji. It's been so useful this week for drawing on and for this folding, and is top of my "must have in the studio" list. The colour and texture are so much nicer than the bright white of printer paper!

Some mazes

Tokyo subway model by Takatsugu Kuriyama (via)
Claustrophobia plus - do it in the dark as a team-building exercise? (via)
Aspects of a more "normal" experience of the classic hedge maze
New to me - the arrow maze -
"Arrow mazes, also known as vector mazes or directional mazes, consist of cells that are connected by arrows. You can move to adjacent cells if the cell you are in has an arrow pointing to them.... If you go one way, you cannot necessarily go back, so it is possible to get stuck."

A maze transforms into a tree -

whereas a labyrinth transforms into a loop (see it happening here).

A maze being generated (watch it here; this would make some interesting "blackwork" embroidery) -

Again, new to me - a new category - a sparse maze (from a site that's useful for defininitions of categories and "operations") -
"one that doesn't carve passage through every cell, where some are left uncreated. This amounts to having inaccessible locations .... A similar concept can be applied when adding walls, resulting in an irregular maze with wide passages and rooms.  ...  Sparse mazes are produced by choosing to not grow the maze in areas that would violate the rule of sparseness. A consistent way to implement this is to, whenever considering a new cell to carve into, to first check all cells within a semicircle of chosen cell radius located forward in the current direction. If any of those cells is already part of the maze, don't allow the cell being considered, since doing to would be too close to an existing cell and hence make the maze not sparse." Hmm, there's something basic I don't understand - "carve passage"? "uncreated cells"? "growing the maze"? "allowing a cell"? Sure enough, it's computer-speak; maze programs abound (here's another one - it created the sparse maze below).

More categories of mazes -

This next maze isn't real ... but if it were, and had a hole that a marble could drop through, and you manoeuvred the marble by tilting the maze ... when it dropped through, there could be another layer
and you could manoeuvre the marble .... ad infinitum .... This is hands-on and would be about holding the toy, finely adjusting the balance (it's a big toy!), enjoying the haptic feedback, improving handling skills. And there's a bit of looking ahead and planning ahead. G'wan, someone ... make one ... If the layers were transparent, it would get harder and harder to manoeuvre the marble, the further down it went, because of the visual interference of the layers above it.

Megacities are a sort of 3D maze; when maps are mazes, in areas of high density, what to leave out becomes important. The term "pedestrian mapping" is is a reminder that this research is about how a museum resembles a maze/labyrinth, so pedestrian mapping will be my next area of investigation.

Art I like - Jukhee Kwon

Jukhee had amazing work in the 2011 degree show at Camberwell and is currently exhibiting at the October Gallery, after a previous solo show in London last year and elsewhere. She is Korean and now lives and works in Italy.

Some shots of the current show, which ends this week. Under her scalpel, a discarded book, or group of books, takes on new life as a monumental object -

Meticulously-shredded pages spilling out of the book's covers (or elsewhere) is the basis of her practice. Sometimes it achieves a touching intimacy -
Much of her work is online, but you appreciate the scale (and involvement) so much better when you see it in person!

"Subscribe by email" problems

Quite apart from some people having difficulties signing up to receive posts from this blog by email, in the past wee while I've heard that several people who subscribed haven't been receiving anything - either it never started, or it suddenly stopped. This seems to be an ongoing problem within Blogger and a search of various forums hasn't revealed an answer. It seems a lot of people continue to be frustrated by this problem on their blogs.

I throw up my hands in despair and helplessness...

30 January 2014

"Museum labyrinth" - first thoughts

Waking up with an idea about a ball of thread going through a labyrinth (think Perseus and the Minotaur...), I thought it could be used to join museums by rolling out of the door of one and in the door of another - this would be filmed or an animated video. The logistics were daunting though - rainy steps and pavements, the ball of yarn in puddles, ugh ... could it roll through the museum? Could it be carried along, seemingly unrolling? What view would the camera get? Would it be possible to film in the museum? If not, what would be Plan B?

Trying out the "ball of yarn" at home, by taking photos of it going round corners and past bits of "scenery" -
Appalling photos - I immediately ordered a new camera, something that's been on my list for ages! Drawn as thumbnails, however, with words added (words that revealed themselves during the process of drawing), they yielded a few more ideas -

Poetry Thursday - The Blue Bird

I SOUGHT the Blue Bird near and far,
In verdant woods, and azure skies,
On purple peaks of Paradise,
In golden gardens of a star;
But in your eyes
It flits, and flies,
And in your heart its nestings are--
So near, so far.
Like a wild lark that longs for space,
It beats and beats against the blue
Of your bright eyes, then flutters through
Your eyelids, and lights up your face,
As all the true
Warm love of you
Comes flying to my love's embrace,
Out of blue space.

No author is given; the poem is from Ronald Campbell Macfie, ed. War: an Ode And Other Poems. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1920; it can be seen on "The Great War 1914-1918"; it was heard on BBC Radio 3's Words and Music in an episode called "Blue".
About "The Great War 1914-1918 site: " Several years ago Woodruff Library of Emory University purchased fifty volumes of poetry written between 1914 and 1918; none of these books went into second editions, so they are now rather difficult to find except in specialized collections. ...an interesting collection of poetry from a time that witnessed an unparalleled outpouring of war poetry by the men fighting in the trenches, by the poets at home trying to raise the morale of the troops, and by the women who could do little else but volunteer as aids or wait anxiously at home for their sons, husbands, and lovers."
The site also contains one of the largest collections of WWI postcards on the web - 472 of them, searchable by keyword, title, description, and category ... or simply browsable.

29 January 2014

New project: "Museum labyrinth"

Joe Tilson, "Labyrinth - Julian's Bower" (1974)
Serendipity - or rather, the search for arty faces - brought this work by Joe Tilson (in an article in a 2002 RA Magazine) into view. Tilson has used labyrinths often in his work.

Tilson "completed dozens of labyrinths, often made in wood with the path recessed into the panel, as if underground... Like the pilgrim's unicursal labyrinth at Chartres cathedral, the intricate maze has only one entrance, and only one route to the centre. It is not about getting to the centre first, says Tilson, but about the journey. For him, art is formed from the races of journeys. The labyrinth is also traditionally the underground lair of the Minotaur, and Dante used the Minotaur to guard the seventh circle of his Hell."

(The article, by Charlotte Mullins, also talks about Tilson's fascination with myth (which "stands outside time, existing idependently of our linear time-frame, universally belonging to every time and no time") and with pairing image and word, but using a language, Greek, "that was almost timeless through its longevity".)
Types of labyrinth (via)
There is much to know and learn about labyrinths, so at the moment I'm holding on to the idea that it has one path to the centre - whereas a maze may contain dead ends, or to put it another way, choices in the pathway. In a labyrinth you can keep your hand on the wall and you'll find your way to the centre, and back out again - this is a unicursal design.

It seems obvious, if you concur with this definition, that a museum is more of a maze than a labyrinth. The physical layout of rooms and cases and quirks of displays has byways and can easily double back on itself, just as the classification of artifacts, of knowledge, branches out and may rejoin other branches. Visitors, in their journeys, can take many routes. There may even be several different doors by which to enter (and leave) the building.

Why does "museum maze" not appeal, even as a working title? Possibly maze has inappropriate connotations - playfulness (museums should be serious??) ... pointlessness ... wasted time ... or even, puzzle versus pilgrimage ...

Developing practice course - session 5

In small groups, we talked about our projects at some length, and then everyone gave a compressed presentation to the entire group - three minutes (timed!) to set it out, then two minutes (timed!) of open questions, the idea being that rather than answering them there & then, we'd write them down and think about them.
It's so interesting to hear what everyone is up to! In the small group I was in, Sara is doing prints around the Red Barn Murders; Ilana is looking at the history of the prison that was on the site before Tate Britain was built; Sylvia is bringing together hands and fans. In presenting my possible project(s), based on the travel lines and the memory balls, I had a big realisation - that I was working from what I'd already been doing and trying to fit that in "somewhere", rather than starting somewhere fresh and not worrying whether either of these would "fit in" - a breakthrough moment!

Having rejected my own proposals and talked about why, my notes from the Open Questions segment are: shops/history/archives?; connection of travel lines and memory balls; writing about travel; Walk On exhibiton Birmingham (8 Feb to 30 March); art on the underground; line/time; connecting museums.

Other projects include a school-based project using the site and "strata of time"; responding to the mask collection at the Horniman; responding to the slide collection at the Grant Museum of Zoology; personal history of objects; an effigy with spiritual power; invented objects into a traditional collection; shoes, footprints; tiles for Abney Park cemetery chapel.

From this I wrote notes about the importance of starting points: the impact, ie first impressions, of a collection - how to share that ... personal/emotional starting points ... relation of the work to something current, ongoing. And a reminder to myself: who is the audience?

In the afternoon, a presentation by Caroline Bartlett of how she approaches making her work, within the context of objects and the systems that control them. Her "case studies" included "The artist's journey", shown at Leighton House and Orleans House - two different artists, both in places that were notable for the absence of their personal objects. To represent Lord Leighton, she hung labels with information about his objects sold at Christies, whereas for explorer Richard Burton, she worked from a box of things connected with him that had lost the story of the connection - by not incorporating what his widow had written, the official label was very "dry". (Read about them under "response to museum collections" on www.text.freeuk.com/.)
"On the Shelves of Memory: To Mnemosyne" by Caroline Bartlett
The paired pages with their erasures represent the way Burton's widow edited his works
to sanitise them and make him fit into the values of the time
Another work used the archives at the Whitworth Museum in Manchester. New associations are made when items enter a collection; their history, often incomplete, is recorded on catalogue cards -
and they undergo conservation, with specialist tools, processes, and handworking skills. By layering images and text, "Conversation Pieces" embodies these relationships -
"You can't touch the textiles in a museum collection, but they hold the touch and the care of their makers and of the conservators."

This longer article gives insights into Caroline's work, which is so thoughtful, meticulous, subtle, and quietly brilliantly astonishing. (Disclaimer: I've enjoyed several courses with Caroline at City Lit over the years and have been a big fan of her work since first seeing slides of it, back in the 90s.)
After the break, some talk about research, formal vs creative (having a hypothesis, versus homing in on something and waiting for "the click"). Exploring, editing, collating information, pondering - these are research methods. I'm not sure if the next pix are Caroline's slides or Kate's, but they are useful -

Group brainstorm -
Then, to the Personal Action Plan - a prompt to help with finding a collection or object as a starting point, how it links with current ideas and practice, how it extends these, new skills that might be needed ... I found this so helpful especially because one of the suggested ways of working was to enter the "Inspired by the V&A" competition. Hurrah, a focus, a starting place! (Though looking at entries from previous years, and the 2012 winners,is rather intimidating...)
(On the subject of "inspiration" and how to develop it, have a look at the "folk couture" exhibition website, which shows how 13 designers were inspired by folk art. The show is on till 23 April at the American Folk Art Museum in New York.)

Also available at the class, inspiring books showing interesting artists -
Tanvi Kant works with reclaimed and organic textiles;
The House of Fairy Tales champions the role of creative play in art and life
Julie Arkell; Su Blackwell; Samantha Bryan; Jennifer Collier; Lowri Davies;
Rachael Howard; Carys Anne Hughes; Jayne Lennard; Cathy Miles

28 January 2014

Continuing with "faces"

Because of a previous engagement I'm unable to go to the portraiture class today - which doesn't mean that "drawing faces" isn't on my mind! I've been using this extra time to collect more "stitched faces" and to think about where to start with the stitching, how much of it to draw out first, about how to approach making that sort of work, comparing it with how I (and others in the class) approach the drawing. Thread ain't charcoal!

Also this morning I set myself the task of "some small drawings". An issue of Surface Design magazine happened to be within arm's reach, and nearby was a small pad of rough paper (3"x5") and a felt pen, so I quickly drew every (largeish) face in the magazine.
They're shown in order of being done, warts 'n' all. Apart from looking, looking, looking, all I was trying to do was to replicate the photo.Some are more "accurate" than others; some have more personality than others. I enjoyed the speed and the freedom of not-caring how they turned out - and I enjoyed noticing things, eg how narrow the nose (and asymmetrical the eyebrows) of one of the models was, how the lighting affected what you saw - I even enjoyed drawing the mouths, and started noticing "the planes of the face" which the tutor has been talking about.

Starting with the pen is a bit like starting with a stitch. It was tempting to start with the eyes and work outwards, but this is not good drawing practice. Working instinctively, I'm moving from one feature to another, trying to get the negative spaces right - rather than taking the head and saying "this is the volume, where do the angles change".

(This post is linked to Off the Wall Friday.)

27 January 2014

Monday miscellany

" In ancient Greece, the act of reading was seen as a kind of possession by the text; the loss of autonomy involved in allowing one’s spirit to be inhabited by an unknown writer meant that reading was viewed with suspicion – an activity unsuitable for free citizens and grown men." - from a review of The Golden Thread: the Story of Writing, by Ewan Clayton.

London then and now - a filmed comparison of the same sights in 1927 and now, recreated shot by shot (by Simon Smith). This is "the entrance to London's lung" (Hyde Park) -
See it all at londonist.com.

Last month the British Library released over 1 million images from the 17th-19th centuries into the public domain. It hopes that browsers will use the collection in creative ways, and next year it will release a crowdsourcing application so users can help improve descriptions of the illustrations. If you're looking for a particular subject, the only way to find it at the moment is via keywords in the titles of the book the figure came from, not figure legends.
Maps and views galore, for example this one
Once you've found your image, you can download any image you like without having to worry about copyright infringement.

See and search the images at <http://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary>

A sewing specimen book -
Traced back to northeastauctions.com - sold in 2010 for $3,304. What a wonderful object!
Comprising "A Concise Account of the Mode of Instructing in Needle-Work... " printed by Thomas I. White, Dublin, 1833, and "Specimens of Needle-Work Executed in the Female Model School..." printed by George Folds, the cover inscribed "Sarah Darby 1837" and including cloth samples of sewing, darning, embroidery, knitting, and miniature clothing. Each in marbleized covers, largest 9 ¼ x 6 inches. (One illustrated)
Provenance: Witney Antiques, Oxon, England.

Two crocheted books by Phiona Richards -
See more at madeinslant.com

A "texture map" photographed by Abigail Doan - (reminds me of these, found earlier) -
On a blog, she says, you can leave "a bread crumb trail of sorts when work is in progress". Tantalising indeed...

Here's a life skill you didn't know you needed to have - creating darling little pom-poms with a fork. This pic (via) sums up the method -

26 January 2014

Faces - in stitch

As we're doing two longer poses - and a "personal project" in the portraiture class, it might be possible to bring in a bit of stitching. How to approach it, though - where to start with the stitching, if you don't draw first? It's a very different way of working.
Priest, by David Hill, stitched on aida
"A nice cup of tea" by Shirley Nette Williams, stitched on teabags
One of Shirley Nette Williams' group of 50 stitched portraits, using a variety of materials and processes
Sue Stone uses dense stitching on clothing etc, but does the faces quite simply
A family portrait machine stitched by Harriet Riddell

Another by Harriet Riddell 
By Naomi Ryder
"Mark gets dressed" by Naomi Ryder
By Bernie Leahy - worth a closer look!
Front and back; by Cayce Zavaglia

Also have a look at how Annabel Rainbow does the faces on her quilts, eg here.

Shizuko Kimura's large, hand-stitched drawings are usually full-figure, or groups - here's a closeup of a face -
Detail from "Portrait of a textile worker", an amazing quilt made of clothing labels by Teresa Agnew -
Embroidered newspaper by Lauren diCioccio -
Mary Pal gets maximum mileage out of scrim -