Posts tagged ‘process art’

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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Think Again: Being Human 2016

An exciting opportunity came my way and luckily I had the spoons to respond! [Viva Oxygen Therapy!!] Have you heard of Theodore Zeldin? He’s a very special person πŸ™‚

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sorry this is such a rubbish photo, but it was taken by candlelight πŸ˜€ that’s a commissioned cowl in his hand, made by Singing Bird Artist πŸ˜‰ oh my, what an honour. You can find lots about Theodore Zeldin online, his short biography is here:

http://www.oxfordmuse.com/?q=theodore-zeldin

and his books are available from all good bookstores, as they say. Personally I think he has contributed so much to intersectional thinking by extending the way ‘respectable’ history researchers and professors can expand into political zones and make the voices of ‘ordinary’ people shine through. That he then champions a method of peace-making through conversation, an unfolding of understanding by breaking down stereotypes and having people respond not react to the person in front of them, perhaps from a group they had biased thoughts about, oh, this is Nobel Peace Prize stuff in my book…

He is here in Nottingham both to launch the Being Human Festival 2016 [many other venues across Britain, see http://beinghumanfestival.org/event/conversation-dinner/ for the event where the photo was taken, many events also took place at Contemporary, where some Black History events took pride of place ❀ ] and the Nottingham Portraits project, where a city will be revealed by the views of its citizens, many more events planned for that!

So, what was Singing Bird doing there? Well, you know I’m a textile and fibre artist and work as a process artist, incorporating time and site specific details… Amber Forrest contacted me through Knit Nottingham, who suggested me as a knitter, who though disabled, would be very comfortable knitting during an event to commemorate it in some way. Thanks Eleanor, I owe you πŸ˜‰ After an excited phone conversation and meet up with the lovely Amber who did so much [thanks again Amber] to make sure I was comfortable and my agoraphobia and fibromyalgic needs were met on the night, I was primed. Knit a hat, no a cowl, for a man who has pioneered such exciting techniques to open people’s minds and show them more is possible! This is my joy in action πŸ™‚

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This is a man who wears suits a lot – that’s what professionally active historians of 80+ wear, but I noticed in photos often has his shirt collar open, no hat and no tie. Aha! A cowl might be useful then, particularly when travelling. Amber had found the yarn above, a navy with white thread running through, which turns out to be recycled glass fibres, and get this, it glows in the dark!! How cool is that! I immediately felt how like a pin stripe it looked, like those suits… and having thought about how he has worked to bring out hidden sides of people, I thought of natural colours, a rainbow maybe, no, better, a sunset, with colours reflected in the sea, all the ripples he has made in the world, shimmering reflections taken on their own wave out into the world and the waves he has met and with which he has rolled, how much further he goes than you’d expect from the pinstripe… So I prepared for the event by knitting the ‘pinstripe’ side and starting the sea and sunset, with short lengths of yarns prepped to allow many elements, reflecting the diverse and various people expected to the event at Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant.

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I arrived at the event and was seated with some help [bar stools and sticks don’t go!] introduced to some lovely people, then escorted upstairs [plenty of disabled people came to the event, but they all had to be ambulatory, and those stairs with cold brass handrails were no fun to come down]Β  to be able to choose where I wanted to sit. I smiled, remembering my late husband, as I chose the back corner where you could see 4 doors, but hide a weapon at my right side – yes, classic ninja/agoraphobic out but stressed!! He always knew where I would sit, and as a martial artist found it very funny, because I’m also a pacifist. πŸ˜‰

There were speeches, from the head of Humanities at the University of Nottingham, about the Being Human Festivals and their intentions [improving community integration and access] and from Amber introducing the Nottingham Portraits and MUSE project, and Theodore Zeldin then spoke on how to use the Menu of Conversation we were offered to guide the process. He advised how to avoid traumatic topics if you needed to, but still speak of things important to your life.. it was an amazing list and very interesting… only one thing jarred.. the use of “both sexes”. Theodore has written some great stuff on improving communication between men and women and works with his wife [they have joint copyright on some ideas/processes] so understands the huge need there is for this work.

However, it is 2016, and we do now know there are far more sexes/gender orientations present in our communities, I have several trans friends, some happily transitioned, some at the beginning of their process, but most of my closest trans friends are non-binary, and I have 2 cis friends who also feel they identify more with genderfluid orientations. What is commonplace to me doesn’t seem to have reached Theodore, but I hope someone will draw his intention to this lapse in language, because I don’t feel any lack of diversity in his approach… I will include it in feedback to the Menu process forms and if I am part of the spinoff events MUSE intends, I will definitely raise it, and suggest sticking an amendment over the top. [I am torn between eco awareness and trans ally on that, far better to have new forms, but how many have been printed already??]

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Overall I was very pleased to see a diversity of people there in terms of race and culture and disability, I met at least 2 gay men, spotted some lesbians and doubt I was the only bi person there… there were a lot of white academic types, but then they were there as helpers, so like the wait staff created another group making it slightly hard to get a sense of true proportions. One University guy made a gaffe, but it turned out well, as he casually said he had been hoping to meet some homeless people – silence from 4 of us, and then a refuge project guy spoke up about varieties of homelessness and to support him I said, hmm, yes, I had been 20 minutes away from having no key to a place of my own, flat sitting for a friend while unsafe at my own place [house sharer was letting in violent neighbour angry I had helped her partner leave… sigh] was this close enough to give him an idea? Lovely project guy immediately says ‘Twinnies!’ and goes for a fistbump and handshake! The other two joined in and it turned out we had all been in precarious positions, the woman next to me making that very good point about how many paycheques most people are away from the street if they lose their home. The Uni guy looked a bit embarrassed but got over it and joined in and heard about the project in Beeston. Sorry I didn’t get people’sΒ  names, but knitting takes two hands, actually it takes three when you get your work out and find you have lost a long needle in the taxi!!! I spent a flustered time figuring out how to knit in smaller sections at a time with many dropped stitches being sorted by candlelight [omg] as every other row took all 3 of the short needles from my mitts project… and then some… and BREATHE!!

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My main conversation partner of the evening was a joy to meet! She was full of anger and righteous indignation and an edge of despair about Trump and Brexit and we talked non-stop!! I told her I am a possibilitarian and relentless optimist [at least when I have the right painkillers!!] and how I felt the working class had been abandoned when the first Council houses were sold off, and then when things like the Trade Unions, which had begun to diversify, black leaders in the TGWU [Transport General Workers] and women getting senior positions in the FireFighter’s Union, were pushed out of the Labour Party and the spin doctors let in, and the training and development side of the unions and the Labour Party stopped. I was never a Labour Party member, but I knew loads of Labour and various flavour Communists from being a socialist feminist with the National Assembly of Women… well I was the token anarcha-feminist πŸ˜€ [some of the working class women were very doubtful when I joined, but were won over by my ability to make profits on the catering to fund speakers for International Women’s Day] These were mainly women who had become politicized by the Miner’s Strike, strikes over working conditions, by meeting or being refugees and feminists in teaching or Council work. It makes for a different energy, less despair, more backbone when the shit hit the fan, and because this ISN’T the pit collapsing on 200 men in your village/town, a relief it isn’t worse. Although it is very very frightening…

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The rise of the alt-right/ white supremacists seems to have started with Brexit, risen with Trump and if Marine Le Pen gets in in France… ffs… the recent event in Spain with Franco praised and the Nazi salute being offered to a Catholic priest – omg, omg… this is very, very frightening. Or is it? This was here before, but underground.. now it has surfaced and like a particularly bulging spot, it can be tackled and all that pus can run away. Before, Britain First and other despicables could deny their Nazi roots, now they are gloating, out and proud. And they are sickening the middle way-ers who very naively thought they could vote Ukip and it would only be black suits, not blood on the streets… if the second referendum comes through, I think enough lies have been proved, enough nastiness has been shown that with more canvassing and talking to lost-in-the-muddle types, we could get a very different result.

There is a pause in which we have time to organize against white supremacism, already Muslims and Jews have acted to make a joint organization to defend religious rights, which is amazing.. I have seen Jewish Voices for Peace making common cause with Black Muslims via Facebook through supporting Black Lives Matter demos over the summer and a couple of days after Trump’s election, this amazing announcement of the new organization. I had tears of joy… may this feed back, may this help those American Jews who do support the sending of military aid to Israel stop and instead build a programme of mutual understanding and send peacemaking volunteers to Israel/Palestine…

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But back to the event, celebrating thinking again, meeting and talking and responding, not reacting… there was such a buzz, such good energy in the room… I woke up the next day early and full of positivity, and managed to start clutterclearing my studio! That’s a win! I am meeting Amaya for a cuppa at the weekend and we will talk more about the ideas thrown up, she has great energy, skills and education and empowerment and I hope we will be able to come up with some ideas to help gather the resources of our individual networks and enrol them in creating more connections…at the least, hanging out with likeminded friends is good for your mental health! more win, more hope, more possibility webs spreading into the world! It has to be good.

 

wear the green willow

Trying to write about this recent piece of work reminds me exactly why l like making with my hands, from materials less slippery than words!

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It started as an idea to make a piece of land art and link it to the 7th anniversary of my husband’s death… but all my confident starts faltered and then extra pain from a slipped collarbone pushed me into a really low space. I’d arranged a lift to a lovely place, Attenborough Water, an area of lakes covering old quarries, and was really looking forward to it simply as a day out. I was at the point of cancelling everything but luckily got a late burst of energy and confidence, took apart many things half done and reassembled them, and finally hit my rhythm again… oh the relief!

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So my photos are good for the details as usual, but I didn’t consider just how harmoniously my biggest chain/garland would blend in, so another time I will do things differently πŸ˜‰

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The mandala was drawn by Andy and left unfinished, and it was only on Thursday that I coloured it in – he would have made it more rainbowy, but that is part of what l have lost… l have many wonderful friends and make a life full of creativity and colour, but everyone is unique and that special connection is much missed. He was my first ‘safe person’ [for agoraphobia] and helped me go out in the world again, and l have never laughed so much as in those 7 years we had together… so, he gave me wings and the courage to try new things and the happiness to continue in this life after him, not without him…

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so, not green willow weeping after all, but elder, fruitful and comforting, sweetness that stays long after the season…

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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