Archive for September, 2012

contemporary conversations : significant objects

ooh i sprained my brain in the lead up to this class…perhaps because i’d missed a week and some relevant discussion, but i suspect more because i follow daoism. we were asked to bring in an object that was significant to us, to present to the class for ‘reading’. well, i have a flat fuuuuuuuulllllll of objects that mean things to me, they mean i can make things! i chatted with jennifer about it and had decided on a pot of prussian blue brusho pigment.  

mondrian said that any problem of resolution in painting could be solved with black…black oilbar is made with burnt animal bones so i’ve never used it, but i learnt that when in doubt, prussian blue will fix most mistakes. now in my change over of media, a constant remains, prussian blue in brusho is just as comforting. but then i got an email saying the object could be something life-changing and it could be a text. so i dug out something i find really strange to possess : the map of my grave.


it’s because when we bought andy’s burial plot, if we wanted the space above him, we had to buy it at the same time. so it is reserved for me. if my stepson should die before me, he can be buried there, but as i’m over 20 years older than him, let’s assume i’ll die first, that there won’t be such a collapse of society as we know it by that time that individual burials will be a thing of the past (i’d happily be chucked in a mass incinerator to heat community housing if that was a possibility, but composting is the next best) so i know where my grave is…which has really interfered with how i feel at my husband’s grave…as a daoist, the place he left the organic sack he came in is really insignificant to me, his energy has rejoined the universe, his individual life force still exists in films, cds, poetry, artworks and constructions all speaking strongly of his creative approach to life and great sense of humour. he has a son, who has two sons, there is a tree and a piece of woodland protected in his name funded by what was collected at the funeral/instead of flowers, many things live on because of him…but kneeling on my own grave is an odd feeling!

anyway, possessing my own grave plot has changed me, it makes me even more keen to seize the day, even less patient with soap operas (on tv or in real life),when there is a real drama going on, as mary oliver says ” tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?”

first we presented our objects and discussed readings of the objects, some were easy, some were so rich it was very hard to do them justice…

mary: shells  brought up a sense of how much older nature and organic life is than the merely human; their  mystery (well rolled in shoals for a few years or buried for a millenium?) their inevitable change in form as the sea works them, the beauty of their appearance, the pleasure of touching them, makes links between our human scale and the timelessness of the ocean which is as much as most humans can cope with of the infinite time of the universe…how much more significant the shells became for some people if there was an identifier that these were from norfolk/holcombe beach, the flat openness of the east coast beaches, the seals, personal memories…

vesse : dried lavender and poppyheads in a painted and embellished jar with thyme oils (a piece made by her that was shown in Textduality) this spoke of the duality of her bulgarian roots and her nottingham garden, aromatic and comforting, it was felt to be gendered, even though the jar was glasspainted a translucent turquoise blue, the flowerheads and pink yarn made it feminine and then the hiddenness of the thyme oils among the herbs became mysterious. i felt there was a dissonance between the “prettiness” of the object and the strength required to balance the healing and longing for home/land, but i had a very gender-aware irritation going on that day!

hilary:  a favourite aunt’s umbrella this again was felt to be gendered, and also spoke of sensible thriftyness and a love of the well-made; the brolly has so far lasted 20 years with a few signs of wear on the wooden handle, but works perfectly. there was also a flavour of old fashionedness, that this suggested an older lady.

singingbird: burial plot papers this spoke of preparedness and organisation, perhaps one of the reasons i find possessing them so incongruous! they are very misleading as a signifier of me, but perhaps signify well how death makes one deal with life, and how this has changed me.

pat: her dead father’s autograph album from his military service during the first world war   this was almost impossibly rich, as eric said, it could have been the basis of a book and i could see a film or tv series based on it. it contains lots of sketches and gave a flavour of the 1914-1918 wartime spirit, it has anna pavlova, the great ballerina’s autograph, glamour and the gritty humour of the trenches all in one album…

eric : his dead father’s silver 1920 engraved cigarette box this was also very rich, the contrast between the engraving and sentimental value and its current scrap value, the lost use, cigarettes are now twice as long as then 🙂

chris: a diabouka, that is a middle eastern pressed aluminium drum with european tuning and a broken skin this made real how quickly things can change, an ancient style of drum that would be fragile and carefully treasured in its traditional ceramic form is now easily affordable, easily repairable, easily tuneable, originally it was common to all muslim countries right through to the muslim areas of china, now it is common to all areas enjoying world music, so including europe and america again, a contrast in value because it is temporarily unfit for use, this spoke to a love of music and dance, celebration…

all this learning to read objects as text is key to postmodernism: there is no one single truth, the way Modernists believed anything could speak to all was totally exploded once we allowed everyone else into art (everyone who wasn’t a eurocentric  straight white male). duchamp first used found/chosen objects in assemblage and the pop artists of the 50s loved assembling incongruous objects, the playfulness of robert rauschenberg’s goat with a tyre brings a smile, if not a full belly laugh, at the thought of all those pompous critics having to be deathly serious about it…

installation art depends on this reading of objects, however random the placing of stray objects may look, some concept lies behind which accidents are accepted and which meanings are emphasised. how much nuance an installation artist brings to their work may be the key to the success of the work, and certainly to the accessibility of it.

textere is the latin for “to weave” and postmodernism posits that text is woven of meanings and associations as a textile is the interplay of warp and woof fibres. context : the weaving together of those meanings within the site it occupies (time and/or place) leads to contextual analysis ” a sophisticated approach to a given subject that necessitates a detailed examination of its origins, its relationship with others of its kind and its history, all of which will help to elucidate its true identity”.

next we divided into 3 groups to make an installation with our significant objects and any other materials available in the store cupboards.

vessa and rekha made a piece based around the blue jar of dried lavender that vessa had brought in, they call this:

one day in winter

i felt like this was the most accessible installation and perhaps the most successful, all of us felt like two women had just left after a coffee/tea together, having a heart-to-heart, the comfort of the healing herbs and a hot drink on a cold day…

eric, latifah, hilary and pat had an embarrassment of riches, the umbrella, autograph album and silver cigarette case were all resonant and i felt they did a really good job of making a coherent installation in such a short time from such rich objects. possible titles were: lives lived or: dues paid the addition of the coppers and empty wallet suggested the struggle of pensioners on war and war widow benefits, the chairs, blanket and umbrella an invalid’s bath chair being wheeled to the promenade…the cartoon in the album is of the vaccinations the soldiers were given, while the cigarette case and roll-up cigarette remind us how carelessly their lives were treated otherwise…

the comfort of the blanket and the protection of the umbrella are so little after years in the trenches or caring for an invalid soldier…there was a real sadness to this piece, perhaps with the three objects being bequeathed this was inevitable, but the positioning of the umbrella to hide the occupant, a hint of ‘trouble bravely born’ in contrast to the cheery cartoons of the album…very evocative, nostalgic, a little melancholic…

sorry, i didn’t take a very good photo of this…

mary and i made links between the sea and the predictable/unpredictability of death and the way we feel individual energy returns to the great deeps of the universe, again the boundless energy of the oceans is an easier way for humans to imagine that…the twisting coils of the freeform crocheted paper bring in the edges of energy only the quantum mechanics have a hope of understanding. the fragility of the paper and human plans against the solid strength of the shells could be depressing, but hopefully their
beauty and the comfort of how their weathered selves feel in the hand is a reminder that change is only change and not to be feared.

so, it all got very deep…i was so tired when i left, and town was so busy, i ended up having  agoraphobia on the way home, luckily a friend could phone buddy me round lidl! yes, retail therapy occurred, but the pretties i’m making are well worth the bend in the budget 😉

update: tony had missed that day, but brought in his object the next week – i failed to get a photo, but if i say it was a pruned piece of hazel with scarred bark from coppicing, which had an uncanny similarity to a priapic (look it up! lol) male, i think you will know what i mean 😉 i laughed out loud when i saw it, andy used to collect them too, although he also had ‘female’ branchings. we discussed what it brought to mind, as well as the shamanic/totemic ritual it could instantly be used for. but also a catapult and the way children could range freely for miles, so sad to compare with nowadays, very few lads would go to the woods alone or even with friends now. chris and mary also saw similarities to the animated figures of Jan Svankmajer (Schwankmeyer) and i saw the two fingers V symbol – either way round. i think it would have been quite hard to fit the hazel into the installations we made, though two fingers to death might have worked! 😉


favourite words: audacity!

audacity is one of my favourite qualities, in its positive sense of boldness, a willingness to take risks. to me it implies rising to a challenge creatively, with a flavour of quicksilver flexibility and often a sense of humour glinting through…of course to be too bold is to be without boundaries and that’s when the downside comes out.

talking to the other mixed media artists on sunday reminded me of an installation i hung in a dementia care home for National Mental Health Week 2011. i was allowed to hang as much as i wanted. except it also turned out that that was only as long as people could still use the TV lounge for keep fit, film night,a business meeting, a training session for 20 occupational therapists…oh my…

i kept my temper though i came home with my jaws aching most days discovering what people thought was ok to do to the piece, because it was made as a huge assemblage including  the memories of over 200 people from the local community and care homes, individually drawn or written on squares of fabric. these were then stacked in blocks or strips or as bunting, and hung across the huge room. because it was a representation of memories in the brain of someone whose memory was failing, there were fraying edges, unmatching blocks, long ropes and strings of freeform crochet weaving in and out of everything, bundling and coiling, all very tactile…i loved the residents coming through just to touch the fabrics and their families telling  me about working in the lace mills or lingerie factories, but i hated the way i’d come in to find it all shoved around for the carpet shampooing!  because it was a collaborative piece, because it wasn’t neatly framed, it wasn’t worthy of respect…grrr…

thank goodness on the main day of the event, a friend’s husband saved my sanity by telling me what he thought the piece was and how it changed his opinion of “modern art” (i think technically it’s altermodern, but let’s not go there 😉 ) he hadn’t read the statement he just ‘got it’.  and then he got how abstract art can be as true as representational! yay!

– called ‘pushing buttons and ringing bells’  it was partly about the dangers of memory work – helping someone remember being in an air raid is not healing unless you can help create closure, and when someone has advanced dementia that’s going to be very difficult…

but simply seeing how impossible it is to guess how many unverbalised memories a person may have reminds us of the need for respect and compassion in our dealings with everyone…how important it is to remember that the person who cannot communicate is still experiencing the impact of memories, or is now set adrift by the loss of memories that were central to their identity…

oh yes, why is this piece audacious?  i only learnt crochet 3 months before making it the centrepiece of the work,  i made an abstract assemblage with fine art elements and community input, that in the case of some of the participants was a scribble they couldn’t articulate and i made it mean something to a lot of visitors, who expected to be bewildered – ha! i held to my process against a lot of pressure to be more accessible (meaning drop the interactive element, the explanation of brain function etc) and by being bold i made something beautiful (thank you goethe)

the sock that dares not say its name, with apologies to radclyffe hall…

    due to the bi-flag arriving late at the fade cafe pre bi-celebration day event, this sock, a purple sweatshirt and a bi-themed book became the signals by which a group of strangers could become friends! i didn’t expect to meet other peeps into mixed media (why not singing bird? perhaps because most bi events i’ve been to, talk of art opened no doors, and even glazed some eyes…shame!!! ) so my good turn to jennifer turned into fun for me and already an art/creativity exhibition is being discussed! if you are in the East Midlands or just v.interested, contact me via comments, interest more important than ability or recognition 🙂 ps if you saw me perform and want the words to loving beauty, click on beauty or poetry in the tag cloud

this sock is also going on the knit nottingham blog in their customer show-off section (er, it’s probably not called that?!) as an easy off-piste variation/stashbuster for those who favour diversity in all its forms 😉

by the time its mate (which of course does not match, how could you doubt me so?) is finished and on the way to edinburgh for the lovely em, they may be among my most clicked artworks…surely some mistake?

piling up the papers

Leonard Cohen: if I knew where the songs came from, I’d go there more often

one of the positives about making components, not 5st*r pieces of work, is that i can shuffle along on a less than optimal day and still do something. i do miss the ‘rapture’ of being totally engaged in oil painting, and would happily be immersed everyday, but lots of small pleasures are not to be sniffed at.  ironing paper dry is something that always makes me smile as i never iron clothes. it also makes me very tired! but the smoothness of the paper and the slight sealing effect on the brusho metallics are worth it. btw brusho is a pigment powder, just loooovely to play with…

i have 3 kinds of paper with brusho on, and now —- with wax crayon and acrylic.

any thin water based paint will do by the way, just doodle, scrawl or purposefully pattern if you must with a wax crayon, then paint as desired, the water can’t stick and soon you will discover new colour combinations that set you off in new directions. i use this as a layering technique when i’m building up a variety of papers before starting a new collage project, but sometimes a piece made at random can stand alone…

this piece reminds me of winter dusk on the salt marshes, the kind you see those huge starlings swirls on…

same word understood differently

life is very rich when you have 3 separate visitors in one day who all make you laugh and think about life from different angles. speaking about when the same word means different things to different people set me off wondering about how confusing i must be sometimes. (only sometimes? 😉 ha!) i know i have thought through things based on my own life, a life lived in “interesting times”  and informed by my easy connection with others who have also lived through unusual, even bizarre experiences,  but i will still use a mainstream term quite blithely…

so yesterday’s lightbulb moment was realising i say


when i mean


– you knew i meant that, right?!!!

admit it, singing bird, NO ONE thought that! it requires having read starhawk’s fiction and thought through permaculture of society, not just gardening; having a willingness to respect the broken and work with things as they really are, not how we would like them to be, while being a relentless optimist. also loving to laugh, enjoying creativity and celebrating positivity and finding delight in the small things…being a singing bird… AND a green tree…

psychogeology joke ;)











dun dun dun dun daaaah!

it’s behind you…

i was practising making foam stamps last night, and came back from the contemporary course with new eyes!

psychogeography….hmmm…psycho geology…apologies to soraya and the other american visitors, this won’t make a lot of sense…




it’s postmodern art

slamming into the escarpment of common sense-and-proud-of-it

knocking over  the baby and the bathwater

and making a right old mess

building a pretty castle on a volcano cone

with no water

is fur coat and no knickers

all mouth and no trousers

derbyshire is a

fossilised tropical lagoon and

matlock, the motorbike riviera,

skeggy in the peaks,

a geographical joke…

hard work having fun

when the quarries are the last heavy industry

iron john looking at bluejohn

running out

the feelings round here run as deep as

the underground rivers

and where they meet the south

it’s all volcanoes

and spitting bricks

of Bulwell red marl


contemporary conversations: making art/ making sense

derive (pronounced as the french, duh-reeve) to wander hopefully

ooh, that alone was worth going to the course for!

chris lewis-jones took us (a mixed group of nine students) to the outside of nottingham contemporary and led us in what i would call a five sense grounding exercise, which is apparently (this is where i insert the warning that all mistakes are my own!) a core approach of psychogeography :  to focus on context, literally, how the gallery sits in the landscape through to what we brought with us. Baudelaire was the first of the flaneurs, to choose (then a radical refusal of privilege) to walk through a city to experience the urban environment directly, waste products and all (before Bazalgette and city sewage systems, a truly bold step 🙂 ) Guy Debord and Ivan Chtcheglov (pronounced chiglev) of the Situationists made being aware of the effect of the urban environment a key part of their practice. later british artists such as Richard Long, Will Self and Hamish Fulton brought breadth to this by including rural and wild landscapes.

we heard: traffic, cars on cobbles, the rush of the dual carriageway/a tram/ wind in the trees still heavy with whispery green leaves and wind in the tunnel of the buildings/ people, their footsteps hurrying or strolling, chattering among themselves, arguing on their mobiles/ a generator and building works

we didn’t hear our own breath, birdsong, our heartbeats or any other animals, any music

we saw: some 20 types of bricks and facing stones, york paving stones, cobbles, architecture from at least four centuries, some buddleias (no butterflies), the nottingham contemporary sign reflected in the big glass window by the door, the light bouncing off the metal so it looks lit up in the reflection and easy to read – because it is mirror imaged on the wall!  which is the inside/outside , real/unreal, important/trivial?… some boarded up and unused buildings, some professional businesses, eg legal practices

we didn’t see many signs of the lace trade that gives lace market its name, the lace in the concrete of the contemporary is the most noticeable, very little organic material and no signs of everyday living, no corner shops or market stalls, only the monument of the weekday cross where the market was, no sign of the surge of  urban regeneration the building of  the contemporary was supposed to trigger (not its fault btw, blame the b-ankers)

we felt: a crisp autumnal breeze, light drops of rain, cold….!

and went in!

obviously there was a lot more and, one of the main points of attuning like this, the realisation of how unique each person’s experience is. different people live different lives, notice different things because of their experiences, their abilities, their moods and dispositions, each day might be different, each minute. so when the Modernists thought there was a single true experience of a work of art, they were coming from a viewpoint built up over a thousand years, known affectionately by feminists like me as DWEM (Dead White European Male) which did include American WASPS (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) but very few other people! a tiny percentage of the world population anyway…

the single viewpoint of Modernism (think Clement Greenberg) now looks unthinkably narrow, so well done the post modernists for that. if not much else (i say from the corner of my mouth…;) maybe this course will educate me on their other achievements, but they should have brought in a radical shift in accessibility, but somehow opted to be bewilderingly obscure. luckily things have moved on and now we are to look at


as coined by Nicolas Bourriauld in 2005 and his exhibition at Tate Britain in  2009. this asks artists to reconcile the single voice of Modernism with the pluralist relativism of post modernism, to bring forward an individual response/proposition in a global market, to be one voice among an acknowledged many. there seems to be a flavour of  individual versus mass marketed too, oh goody, someone let some politics creep back in 😉

by the time we’d absorbed all this, we were ready to be plunged into the work of  Alfred Kubin  because we needed some light relief. oh, my mistake, it was time to be treated to nightmare visions of a troubled soul who was brilliantly skilled at sharing those symbolist horrors…;) most of us found it very dark but not all, and the technical prowess of the guy is beyond doubt. on returning to the studio we were invited to make a group response to what we had experienced, the exhibition, the course, any or all of it. in 10 minutes! eek! and with NO NEEDLES…have you ever tried attaching lace at speed to corrugated cardboard by poking holes with wire and pushing string through…it was a lot of fun making one piece out of four people’s varying responses and i got permission to show what WE hung in nottingham contemporary today 😉

the pipe cleaners/ribbons and string are the nine students and one tutor making their way to the course, experiencing the building/ course/ structures of ideas/ exhibition of work (the lace and the cardboard frames) and visiting the Alfred Kubin exhibition (black crepe/ coloured tape) and reacting, multicoloured yarn in free chain crochet (my desperate need for positive creativity after all that gloom!)/ other yarns (the others’ less extreme reactions!)

howzabout that for 10 mins! i forgot to ask the others if i can use their names in the blog, so fellow artists credits will follow 😉

the other group focussed on their reactions to the exhibition, using pen and ink like Kubin, they’d just started with a diffuser spray when time was up, so the lightness they feel compared to the misery of Kubin is what shows most, and thank goodness! i had enough sooty black today to last me for several weeks!

i was pleasantly surprised by how much i got to laugh, and i will be thinking about derive for a while…