Posts tagged ‘iterative process’

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 🙂 [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 twists  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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Coming to the beginning

After working on a piece for a few months, it’s odd to be coming to the end…

I need a hand putting another hook in the door so I can attach Vital Spark to the rod I found among some Andy left behind. He would coppice hazel and carve patterns in and then colour/stain them… this one was left plain because it had an overhead lamp strung on it, so is easy to insert without throwing all the colour balance.

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It’s as thick as my thumb, so you can get a sense of how thick those chunky braids are! They hang in a wedge shape framing the ‘web’ of freeform crochet, and then the electric orange feather boa hangs down the middle, with the baubles at either side…

I managed a lot of crochet on my trip to Tate Modern [it helps with the agoraphobia] to see the  awesome Agnes Martin exhibition so have just about finished the webs apart from joins. This one was very variegated both texture and colour-wise, the flames of creativity  fanning out  🙂

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It’ll be really pleasing to see it assembled and vertical – I’ve been able to hold sections up, even hang them on doors, but may have a lot of fiddling to do, making different ‘strings’ hang well together [hope the chiropractor is back soon!] There’s a bitter sweetness, a pleasure at work well made, the process working, and then a sadness at losing the comfort zone the piece becomes…

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Fibre art pieces, the larger installations, anyway, seem to become friends with whom I hang out and have a great time enjoying ideas sparking all over the place, colours and textures igniting lots of positive pathways, that even if they touch on trauma, keep me productive. I’ve been dealing with some deep grief that I couldn’t save Andy’s life – I gave him CPR, and the ambulance team got there fast and worked really hard but he had the kind of heart attack that just doesn’t respond.

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So some of The Vital Spark is about what makes life worthwhile, colour and connection and the neurons firing, the difference an hour can make, breathing life into an idea and then the last breath you take being a sudden wall falling that silences all the ideas that would have come. I don’t expect people to see that in it, but the making experience has included me being present to some of that…and being able to see the end of this piece means what for the conversation, the being present?

I have bought more yarn, with at least 2 pieces springing to mind from the palettes they create, and both relate to this – one is about trauma and bereavement, a mixture of blacks and purples with a gorgeous Noro Mossa as its key. The other is about the perfection of early summer, a very English summer, when the foxgloves are out and there is a very light feel and cast to everything, before the heat makes things wilt… this was Andy’s favourite season and means me working in a very light palette, pinks and creamy yellows… It’s a challenge, but I seem to be really drawn to it, so I’m trusting the process. I’ve knitted a few rows [knitting still hurts my hands] and will work a few of the easier elements as I finish The Vital Spark… because, the thing about ends is, they’re also beginnings… which is a cliche because it’s true. 😉DSC_0047

 

 

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?  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 🙂 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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Organic Process: fibre sculpture

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Organic Process has been hanging on the bedsit door where I can see it from my bed for over a month, as I wrestled with the final resolution. It’s about 2.20m x 30cm x 30cm/ 7′ x 1′ x 1′ and made to be viewed from any direction, so would suit being hung in a stairwell or a ‘crossroads’ corner, where it’s easy to see different angles and details.

To resolve it, I removed 3 elements and added 2, ironically removing some of the organic materials! It originally had some chunks of driftwood and tiny sea shells, but was losing its effect of ideas coming together from thin wisps of inspiration. After staring at for so many weeks I had to laugh – the removal and insertions took maybe 20 minutes, with another half an hour spent checking ends and securing some of the loops…

 

I will make some smaller companion pieces from the ‘leftovers’ but I am really pleased to be packing it away to await photography for a slideshow – I am not good enough with my hands/camera to scan up and down without wobbling 😉

I’ve really enjoyed just how freeform this piece has been while working, how much it celebrates and affirms iterative process, the working until the object of working becomes clear… and the seagreen that is so hard to photograph is very pleasing to live with. It’s also a pleasure to go back to Wasting Waste though, the heavy brown/blues feel right for the approaching winter. This is a very summery piece, with hints of seafoam and light breezes and birds wheeling and shells glistening in bright sunshine on the beach… and as the landlord came round with his blowtorch to light the storage heaters [oh my!] last week that’s pleasing, but not consonant.

I packed Sea Change and Peace/the Hundredth Heart away yesterday after airing and drying, and there is a real pleasure in finishing another piece and

DSC_0014-002DSC_0015-001DSC_0018-001DSC_0020-001DSC_0026-001DSC_0027-001resetting the work boxes/storage to suit the new priorities. It’s a good time of year to pick up pieces I put down and having left them fallow, now gather in energies that had diluted too far. We’re having a burst of very hot weather for the end of October/ beginning of November, and combined  with getting more painkillers sorted out, I   DSC_0027-003feel ready to re-focus. I got distracted by activism on a bigger scale than really works with/for my fibromyalgia, but I have come to the end of that cycle (thanks to some flaming, I have a new appreciation of how much I hate being nitpicked on!) with some positive results. [the Peace Fair, the anti-ATOS demo etc] Now it’s time to put making first again… and being happy about that decision (after some guilty conscience searching!) is probably why Organic Process could find its resolution.

 

re stating intentions…

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Mmmm…I just re read my description of what I’m making to be fundraising pledge rewards, and you know what, it’s drifted… which is fine, because I have a better idea now! 😉 This is what is known as iterative process, doing it to find out what it is, as I like to define it. AKA life/process…;)

So all is well, but this seems a good moment to re state my intentions:

to fund an exhibition called the whispering wall, an exhibition of installations and films, with a major piece about the silenced

to use my stash/ upcycle art that I no longer exhibit to make pledge rewards: these should invite creativity or meditation/solace

ideas so far:

handmade books

i) a limited edition of 6, but one of a kinds (so far: green tree and damselflies; maps; mudras; pre-raphaelites & kimonos, probably armchair traveller and mandalas)

ii) an edition of 12 blankbooks, collections of pages to work on, from my piled up papers and fabric stash (oh, the joy of setting to and making lots more 😉 )

challenge/resource packs ( for art journalling/embellishment and card making/ATCs)

and some small art and craft, eg brooch/cards, wearable or frameable images, bags and cushion covers, solace/ scented sachets

I am beginning to see a ripple in my stash, more small boxes with neat labels 😉 and biggest crates starting to receive non-art items, I can’t tell you how exciting it is to think I might get to have a seat to hand sew in by the window onto the garden in the studio…and an empty table!!!

The distraction art dreaming creates is wonderful, but it requires a certain space to be possible: today I woke up at first light and wasn’t in pain…after 2 hours, I can feel I need to take the tablet, so I can take the tablets (??!?) but this has been a precious window 😉

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I’m about ready to make some more of these components of the whispering wall, the cones covered in brusho paper. I have been doing a fair bit of freeform crochet to make the fishing net/clusters they will be gathered in, but I’ve yet to fully embellish any.

At first this piece was going to be about silencing of survivors of sexual abuse, but lately I’ve started to feel I want it to cover other abuses, political and economic too… I get frustrated when people argue among themselves rather than seeing we all need a better way of doing things…

so it will be interesting to see what happens as I make more, while my hands are busy, my mind thinks a different way 😉

ps: the top image is handmade paper drying on the line a couple of summers ago, a lovely day!!