Posts tagged ‘embellishment’

Process art: creating a response piece

This post explains how I came to create my piece ‘Tangled Freedoms 3’ in response to the archive materials in the ‘Threads of Empire: rule and resistance in colonial India’ exhibition, opens April 12th 2017, Lakeside Arts Centre, University of Nottingham.

http://www.lakesidearts.org.uk/exhibitions/event/3467/threads-of-empire-rule-and-resistance-in-colonial-india-c1740-1840.html

Singing Bird Artist:

Immersing myself in a subject [topic/ material/ dream] and finding out what my hands want to make as a result is my normal process – Sea Change [see videos] started from a dream but involved a chase through Greek mythology and the role of coral in climate change research, while Organic Process started with 3 particular yarns and went some unexpected places [painting vintage buttons with nail varnish?!]

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As soon as Dr Onni Gust told me some details from the archive materials I was fascinated πŸ™‚ [not sure if I’m allowed to quote – but believe me, as an intersectional feminist and anti-racist, the items chosen are very interesting, and as a textile and fibre artist interested in clothing and costume as signifiers… ooh! Come see it!]

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Onni recommended some background reading about the period, which was very useful, as though I know a certain amount of colonial history, I’ve always been a bit hazy on the details of the British East India Company. I wasn’t allowed to do History at high school as my godfather taught it and he thought I’d be cheeky [me?!] so I’ve been catching up ever since. I hadn’t realised how the first ‘traders’ were very likely to be merchants and middle class and self made business men, anxious to move up in society, but also staff landing their dream assignment, to be scholars, Islamophiles, loving the Iranian poets who shaped so much of Moghul cultural values, or fascinated by the beautiful sculptures and architecture of Hindu tradition. The more I read about those men’s adventures in crossing over into local culture, making political alignments but also romantic liasons and full marriages, bringing their wives and children into the British aristocracy…the more my impressions of that time had to be unpicked.

 

The French East India Company were rivals at every court for the favour of local Moghul or Hindu royalty, who were fantastically wealthy by European standards, a letter in the exhibition details the gifts a party of British visitors were given in 1742, hugely lavish, humbling the Company officials… The French were a new republic, offering a larger army of mercenaries to local sultans, and some of the trade wrangles were as much about Paris and London as the Indian courts…

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Fabrics were an important part of the East India Companies’ wishlists… the Kashmiri shawl was a status symbol among the upper middle class in Britain, and the shameful history of how the boteh was renamed paisley after the Scottish textile mill town whose fortune was made on cheaper copycats of Indian skill should be taught on every textile course…

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Muslim art is abstract – images of monkeys, dogs and humans are particularly offensive, something I bear in mind when making quilts for refugees and the geometric and arabesque flourishes of their textile designs far outshone the toiles de Jouy and chintz flowers, both in style but also vibrancy of colour and tone. Hindu dyeing and printing techniques were ahead of Europe at the time, though Britain was heading into the Industrial revolution of machination, measuring and metering, huge mills where children would lose fingers and hands in the threading machines for Jacquards and spinning Jennies.

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With all the textual research bubbling away in my brain, I explored which cloth and fibres felt like they fitted… It’s difficult to convey quite how my process is different to straightforward design, but there’s more generosity towards intuition… While mulling over the way my third of the triptych would possibly have to accomodate being above standing head height, I made my usual assemblage elements, machine cords. These take a few hours, depending how many I make, but are very useful for simmering ideas about colour, watching what happens, what works, what doesn’t, what suddenly gifts you a significant piece of the puzzle.

After noodling around for a while, I remembered some sari ribbons I had and started playing with them:

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Gradually it became clear to me what the feeling I was to convey in the piece is. We had discussed how the triptych would allow space for our individual reactions – while hopefully making a harmonious whole. We were each energised by different items from the archive, though equally full of anger and grief at the deaths and injustices of the times… it took some time to narrow down our concerns to generate a name for the triptych that would fit our separate responses, but finally Tangled Freedoms was the agreed title. Then everything opened up again as we discussed what techniques we were drawn to, what colour palettes spoke to us… I chose aqua blues and sand, from lemon through to topaz. Having spent a year making patchwork as part of pacing and managing anxiety, I decided to challenge myself and include it in my end piece, as a base layer, with fibre and thread layers above. These fibres are from the gauzey muslin I chose as my fabric to be dyed by P.Chezharb, and they’ve done a beautiful job, rippling tones within the core colours…

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What I feel most strongly after my research is how tangled everything is – there is straightforward exploitation of the resources of India and the common people, but as soon as you look at individuals, layers and twistsΒ  and turns emerge. Everything revolves around the court protocols; the concerns of the East India Companies; but then there are the harem women dressed with freedom, behind their mashrabeya screens, the European women free to travel with an escort, but in their personal prison of stays and corsets, neither free from the threat of violence and death if they strayed too far from what pleased the men they were possessions of; the servants of the Companies, caught up in massacres caused by rank stupidity and bigotry; the scholars wanting to explore their long cherished dreams instead supposed to defraud and unsettle their hosts; the hugely wealthy rulers being threatened by the decline of their autonomy and the de-stabilising efforts of European governments… who here is free? The Europeans died in their hundreds, many in the first year. No one can act without consequences, most are walking tightropes under pressure from government or ruler or husband…meanwhile the saddhus sit naked by the rivers, dazzled by the shining, rippling waves and own nothing and are owned by no one. The only people free to do as they please have no power. Tangled indeed…

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The feeling I most want my piece to convey is the dazzling betrayals, ever shifting meanings and deceits, that all that glittered was not gold, the death and the dirt below the gold. The role that water played, the huge lengths of time between query and response, at least a year, and that was if no ship foundered. Often an official would be answering someone who was now long buried, merchants would be fighting the French Company for the best deals, while they wondered if Britain had been invaded by Napoleon…

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Pauline Edwards has used text and images to recreate the fiery pyres of massacred Indian soldiers at Vellore, and Pol Chezharb has used a background of vivid primaries to invoke the life and death nature of these economic and political choices, but I still feel most struck by the air and water, open skies and miasmic marshes the British edged in from at Calcutta, the terrible sea journeys they risked to make money that could not save them if illness came… foolsgold for many, the founding of a colony that stole immeasurable wealth and unsettled world politics for at least 2 centuries, imagining it could be possible to do that without creating anger and a backlash that is still unrolling today… foolsgold…

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new directions

I’ve been having a flare, brought on by filling in the ESA benefit form: telling unsympathetic people how impaired your abilities are nowΒ  for 20 pages is not good for morale. PIP forms are even harder and should be filled in with the help of a welfare advisor so you tick the right boxes, phrasing can make a big difference!

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Getting over the side effects of withdrawing from Venlafaxine was easier than I expected, probably because I managed to make a good care plan, but also a dollop of good luck πŸ˜‰

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One of the tactics I used was a new craft project: handsewn patchwork. New…although I have very fond memories of sewing at middle school where a group of us gathered to sew at lunchtime…I used to be able to sew with either hand and can still sew in either direction, though I tend to sew right to left. Perhaps from the Jewish tailors in my grandfather’s family! I like to think so, I’m certainly a lot neater stitching by hand than by machine where art takes over πŸ˜‰

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I discovered just how relaxing it is to scroll through pages of fabric remnants on eBay, and how much less relaxing it is running through my budget at the end of the month to see if I can pay PA after rent day! EEK! I definitely have a slight problem there… the trouble is none of it is undirected, no buyer’s remorse, I love everything I chose and have projects for it all, I just need to regain my trust that other equally beautiful fabric will be available later… an abundance issue… not helped by that demoralising ESA form, or by friends being very busy, therapist away on training, chiropractor away on a visit etc etc but meanwhile any stress was easiest met by looking at all the lovely fabrics. I had a breakthrough when a search needed me to go via Pinterest and I finally opened an account there. Now I understand why friends find it so therapeutic! I can save all the lovely images there, and NOT on the watch list!

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There is recent research showing looking at beauty in nature or art is very healing/creates a very positive mindset*, so I comforted myself that at least I was filling my mind with lovely ideas, and as long as I actually made/completed things, all would be well – trust the process!

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So finishing my first project has been great, and then having to choose between 3 new projects less so, but getting settled into the next one has been lovely.

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And then yesterday I started seeing lots of possibilities for integrating these very beautiful, very finished fabrics into mixed media collages. They could start with a quilted or patchwork base and then free form out with feathers, beads, my usual ‘more is more’ embellishment approach πŸ˜‰Β  I’ve always found it very hard to integrate large patches of very finished cloth or paper into my collages, it seems like stealing or relying on other’s skills, appropriationist… but I am starting to see how the art of the quilter is to harness and enhance and balance those different forces, to make a cohesive whole out of those wild horses, pulling in all directions…One of the reasons I have bought so much I suspect is that my stash was of fabrics still too strong for me to tame πŸ˜‰ It will be much easier to start with florals, paisleys/botehs**Β  and abstract tie-dyes than very stylized/design heavy pieces covered with another artist’s stamp…

Meanwhile Nonie has no problems expressing dominance πŸ˜‰ I should take notes!

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The Vital Spark

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There’s a point where the results of exploring ideas, even idle messing around with materials of any kind, suddenly come alive, ‘quicken’ as the work-to-be makes itself known the way a baby does with its first kick… before that there’s a glimpse of what could be, but this is the point where suddenly disparate elements reveal how they will mesh… after that vital [ having remarkable energy, liveliness, or force of personality ] moment, the work can follow its own rhythm. The ‘water waste’ piece I’ve been working on for a couple of years now is ‘content’ to be worked on intermittently, other pieces seem to seize the available energy and demand to be made immediately. Organic Process was like that and for the last month the ‘woodland DSC_0023palette’ piece I was making while moving has been evolving, making more demands…

 

With the construction of two huge braids it suddenly revealed its structure, a web strung between the braids with beads of many sizes [ some fabric ones larger than tangerines!] attached at web joins… these are the seeds, the nuggets of previous thought that have generated the piece, a mixture of life experiences, material and process questions and thiDSC_0006ngs my mind has snagged on… all gathering embellishments like barnacles on a rock!

So, ‘The Vital Spark’ is about that moment when the urge, the need, the life force of the piece is revealed… and when that moment happened for it, I felt very amused by the spirals and fractals of it all… it feels like there will be more in this series, and the ‘meta’ nature of it all tickles me… I talk a lot about making and thinking with my hands, being led by the materials… and here I am making pieces about that, making it cerebral/intellectual?Β  Am I trying to bridge build for the people cut off from that life enhancing response to what catches the eye and makes the hands twitch? [in a good way!]

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I don’t like being too immediately symbolic, any designs I plan tend to feel hopelessly clunky, but when I just make, I can look at what now exists and see links for nearly all of it… and it’s fine that not all is ‘known’/recognized because that is part of the process too, for me, dealing with how my life and body have been very bent out of shape by random experiences…Being able to make some beauty from it all is more than enough.

Making is vital, a force for living, thriving, engaging and experiencing, living to the full.

Progress report

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I have been having many small and irksome obstacles recently, against a background of settling in to the new meds – Gabapentin and then Lansaprazole again to manage the digestive system pain and gripes from the Gabapentin. The Gabapentin is worth persevering with because I am able to read non-fiction again! Even just reading a couple of books a week again has been great and my habit of small pleasures is boosted by new releases from favourite authors πŸ™‚ I feel we all need that, but the ones who need it most are now right against the wall, the Conservative Government is pushing as many welfare cuts as it can before it is before the European Court of Human Rights, for crimes against disabled people. People are dying because they cannot afford the Bedroom Tax on the spare bedroom for their carer, and now that the Independent Living Fund has closed, people will be found dead as people who need round the clock care won’t get it. Many more will die very slowly, each day increasingly painful as bedsores become ulcerated, wounds become infected and carers are allotted only a few minutes to shower and toilet with no extra time to change dressings and change beds… Hard Times in Old England, very hard times…

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Against that, my own problems feel petty, but it is worrying that going out one day for a few hours means sleeping for nearly a week, that making one day means being too shaky to stand to heat a ready meal. At the same time, I often feel full of ideas! About politics, about making, about creativity as the core activity for humans, and maybe even what Earth is for..insects and birds and fish all make beauty, with species like the bower bird making aesthetic choices that might challenge an Art graduate, as whale music challenges musicians and mathematicians… who knows?

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Anyway, I have been working on a piece in ‘woodland colours’ since before moving, chosen to be fun, freeform and easy to keep track of while moving. Suddenly it has a name: ‘The Vital Spark’! It feels like there is maybe a series unfolding, from Organic Process to a next one which I know will have crimson and lemon yellow in, and that’s all so far! The Vital Spark is about the happy point when a new idea flashes into being, lighting up the hearth of old ashes and mossy, greened-over bricks and logs… all those old ideas are the compost for the bright new shoot, which promises such hope, and makes sense of the dullness of winter, when life was creeping along in very quiet ways that were easy to be ignorant of while bigger events shook the tallest trees…

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Cherise came round and we talked about what finishing her degree course means and how art is making-led for some [us] and prestige gaming for others, and what fun bright colours can be and how textures can change readings.. and meanwhile our hands worked away and I had great fun playing with beads to embellish some old work that lost its way [mistakes!] and has now become a feature to bridge between the freeform crochet, found wood and bought elements of raffia and willow [remaindered xmas baubles and mini fencing.]

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Flair and flares

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I woke up yesterday with energy again, how frabjous! I’d slept 5 days out of the previous 9, with appointments on the days inbetween, so life has been drab, not fab. The good bit was when lovely Cherise came round midway and filled me in on her exciting final project for B.A.Fine Art. Her work is interesting, stimulating, contemporary and pleasing… but some of her tutors are so poorly informed they think buttonhole stitch [hand sewing] is knitting… sigh… Fibre art has a long way to go to get recognition, some of them hadn’t heard of El Anatsui, who had a huge exhibition at MoMA in Brooklyn last year, won the Venice Biennale a while back and is generally doing exciting headline things at the cusp of installations and structures/sculpture… when someone is paying to be taught by tutors that they have to educate, something is wrong…

DSC_0036Anyway, less winge, more show and tell πŸ˜‰

I am plodding on with some elements for Cradle for Stones, but was wanting to make some pieces for a fundraising stall to accompany Diversity is our Strength at the multicultural St George’s Day event at Sneinton Market, Nottingham. Chatting to Cherise as she whipped up a storm helped the juices flow and I made 9 necklaces.

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Then yesterday I got to play with my newly fixed machine [yay Sewing Attic, Sutton-in-Ashfield!!] and made two big bundles of machine cord in the morning. Later I still had energy so made four meditation pieces in the DSC_0010evening…

I love dalchini bark [coarse cinnamon/cassia] and the packet I bought before xmas has lots of lovely pieces that have eyes [gaps where twigs have been pruned out] which I’m putting to one side for a bigger piece. Meanwhile, the new living room arrangement [great work by David last week] and the aromatics make it feel like House Beautiful here – enjoying that greatly, as I don’t trust it to last – art reigns… πŸ˜€

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collage cards

Having an eye test and chiropractic and friends to dinner all in one day wasn’t my smartest move…and my shoulder and neck are definitely wanting a break from crochet for a while…so, l needed a project where l could work in bed with short bursts of stitching at the machine or by hand.

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Collage cards are perfect:

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a visual feast to uplift the spirits, a way of testing ideas out for twinchies [2inch canvases] and stash busting some recent gifts and impulse buys πŸ˜‰ Jennifer gave me some interesting used and saved wrapping papers and when l was prepping for playing with fire l sorted out some bought handmade papers for embellishment. They come in large multi-packs and there are always some l look askance at, being too patterned to work over easily. So I picked out the ‘flock wallpaper’ and heavily pressed ones, mixed and matched with wrapping papers and stitched to a backing paper. It would be just as easy to glue them, but by stitching them l start to ‘knock back’ the surface and personalize them, and l get very tentative if l don’t do that early on. A way round is to glue with coloured PVA, so that splashes can help break up the perfection and become starting points for embellishment.

Annoyingly I couldn’t find my pinking shears until I’d stitched everything down, cut shapes out of the collage sheets/complex papers l’d made and glued the first ten cards down, sigh! I was hunting for the broken pair – brown handles, not the neon yellow ones right in front of me, oops!

l prefer a deckled edge as it makes things merge better, but the shears won’t cut the flock surface anyway [that’s how l broke the brown handled ones, grrr] so l will work distorting the edge with metallic marker dots etc. That’s a lot of work for a card, too much to get a minimum wage price on, except – aha!- part of the decoration is a detachable charm/totem, either a bracelet or hanging bedizener. Dome/roof shapes are for housewarming-blessings for moving, the ships are for journeys/exploration eg a course or placement as well as travelling. And cats, cos cats run the internet and are always popular!

Hopefully l will be able to potter along pacing myself with lots of rest between little bursts of activity. My downstairs neighbour is away so it has been a very quiet weekend, without him popping in for coffee and recipe swaps, but friends are coming for a bring and share meal on Tuesday, which gives me a chance to do some market research/ get some feedback on pricing – not knowing what to charge for things l never buy!

keeping the colour

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Well, the weather has been every-which-way as the tail end of the ex-hurricane sweeps through, and as the high winds have been making me restless, but the barometric pressure was making me ache, and my arm was really swollen and painful from crochet and knitting, I was really ready for something different, full of colour and…smell!

 

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I realize I have very fond memories that surge up when I smell scorching wood or paper, watching Andy make his amazing art pieces by the fire, knives red hot on the grate, flowers and trees and stars springing out from the grain…my work is very different, no sacred geometry, all freeform as usual, but the scorch smell makes me smile all the same…Some friends came round to play with fire on Saturday and there was a lot of laughter and fun, and it was a lovely feeling to pass on his skills and show them the tools he made as well as finished pieces…they can never meet him, but they have a much stronger sense of him now, I’m sure. People aren’t really dead when their work is so alive…

 

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And then today I cleaned my sewing machine and played with the leaf stitch, using 3 threads at once, 2 up top, 1DSC_0009-002 in the bobbin. If you want to try this, a few tips: go slowly! And put the needle down before you start, have the heaviest thread in the bobbin, so the two ornamental threads balance it and keep your eye on the needle – if there seems too much tension, stop immediately, you don’t want a broken needle flying up in your face.

 

ForΒ  a post on using paper punches and scorching paper:

https://singingbirdartist.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/tooling-up/

 

For a post on heat guns and fabric:

https://singingbirdartist.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/hot-fabrics-1-the-organza-sandwich/