Posts tagged ‘textile 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 🙂 [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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exciting news: Threads of Empire

The University of Nottingham Weston Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre will be hosting an exhibition from April 12th called ‘Threads of Empire: rule and resistance in colonial India.’,

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

curated by Dr Onni Gust [who writes about gender and Empire and women travellers of the 17 and 1800s see footnote ^] with RA and Phd student, Ibtisam Ahmed, who writes interestingly about Utopia and Empire, including on gender [see+]. They have brought together some very interesting archive pieces, letters, lists, reports of revolt..all with a common link of clothing/ costume/ cultural markers that I find fascinating. When Onni suggested I put together a proposal for a response piece with fellow textile artists I was really excited and energised.  After some discussion with my friends Pauline Edwards and P. Chezharb, we decided to form an artist collective called Infinite Threads and submit our vision of a triptych responding individually and collectively to the archive materials. Yesterday we heard we had been accepted and won a small grant for materials and expenses and a stipend, totalling £1,500! Great news! To give you some context, my last joint exhibition cost £450 to install at a private gallery with NO support for materials… happy rollie* dance!!

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Now here’s the thing about being an artist with chronic illness – a turnaround of Feb 1st to April 12th is very daunting nowadays… because once I’d read the archive materials shared with us, I had a design float into my mind that would be a personal challenge. Nothing like keeping it interesting 😉 I’ve been working towards blending fabric collage into a form of painting for a while, and here is an opportunity to create a ‘jump’ piece where I do that 🙂 I started making machine cords and then patchwork for different layers in my piece a few weeks ago, and was so eager to start, holding back has been very hard…

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So I had a very strong commitment to making this piece for a few reasons – and I think you need that as an artist, because you certainly don’t do it for the money 😉 We had some group discussions about how we felt individually, what material was most interesting to us and any initial visions of how we’d work – there has to be a lot of flex at this point, as one of the things we three share as mixed media artists specialising in textiles [we all have City and Guilds textile works training as well as art skills/ training] is that touching the fabric changes so much. The feel of muslin changes when it is dyed, the fold, the fall, the heft… so much art now ignores how what we touch, what we feel, influences our making. Art is not just cerebral, it has heart and guts, juice, energy… brainwork is one part, but to a textile or mixed media artist, or sculptor and many painters, only one..

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I like working with colour blending, creating volume by tearing cloth, putting thread and fibre to work create new fabrics, working with shadows and silhouettes. I tend to stay abstract and trust my process, absorbing lots of visual and a fair bit of textual research so that when my hands start making, there is something my brain/psyche wishes to ‘download’ into the materials in hand. Intensive contact and co-operation between hand, brain and fabric creates interesting work, better than if I actively designed in a more cerebral way, imposing a concept on the materials, subjugating them.

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Pauline dreams her way in, working with text or an image that seizes her attention, allowing a lot of responses to arise and then working down into them as she applies dye or paint, tranfers chosen text, and finally storms the canvas with her machine loaded with threads galore… she once worked 18 hours straight round at my house when she was making a commissioned quilt to celebrate the 105+ minority communities of Nottingham… the piece stretched from my [empty!] fireplace to the back of the sofa, over 10′ square.

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P. Chezharb creates wonderful painterly surfaces using Procion dyes, and then adds mixed media to them. They are creating some of the fabrics we are using, and then their own part of the triptych will focus on their response to the letter describing a British woman’s visit to the local dignitary’s harem from 1742, and the struggle to end sati [suttee, the burning of widows on a husband’s funeral pyre] which still occasionally occurred even at the end of the 20th Century.

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I’m going to post more as our works emerge, and explain more of our backgrounds – between us, we have ancestors and recent relatives who were forced to move by slavery, pogrom, persecution by faith, the Highland Clearances, an Asian experience of leaving Tanzania for Britain, the Windrush migration from Jamaica… we are interested in where the intersections of freedom of choice and freedom within circumstance fall, what we can make as message, protest or affirmation for ourselves and our communities of choice and circumstance…when we can make beauty, and when ugly is part of a necessary truth.

*rollator, a seat on wheels I push to help to help me walk [33% less effort] and then sit on as frequently as necessary, which is pretty often.

^ Dr Onni Gust , current research : Home and Exile in the British Imperial Imagination focuses on ideas of “home” and “exile” in the published and unpublished writings of a network of European-imperial thinkers, looking at how their gendered performances of belonging reconfigured the meaning of nation and Europe.

https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/history/people/onni.gust

+’Clothing the Other: The Use of Fashion in Pursuit of a British Imperial Utopia’ by IbtisamAhmed

http://www.davidpublisher.com/index.php/Home/Article/index?id=28595.html

 

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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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hot fabrics 1 the organza sandwich

So I have new toys 😉

text 1a HEAT GUN and a SOLDERING IRON, both from Lidl’s occasional bargain section, tbh I would not have bought these right now, but £17 for both, when a heat gun is £25-£45 on its own, was more than I could pass up …

I enjoyed torturing fabric on the embroidery course, and while I lived with an open fire could still use a hot poker, but I have missed it since.

So, how to get back in the swing of it/ get familiar with the new shiny toys 😉

I made an organza sandwich, using an 8″ x 18″/ 20 x 45cm length of organza in a colour I bought cheap  and am not fond of it (I’m aiming to burn most of it off, remember). This is a good chance to use scraps of silks and rayon, nylon, tulle, satin, chiffon, mixed with sturdier fabrics, moving up from lingerie lace to cotton. Only use polycotton if you are brave, it can do VERY strange things under heat, and STINKS to high heaven.

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I like to use quite vivid scraps, and arrange them in a jumble, though because this is a test piece I grouped my cottons at one end. Pin a few anchor pieces to the halfway point and then fold the organza down. The fabrics need to join/overlap because the organza will, in effect, DISSOLVE, and what will hold the piece together are the threads and the remaining fabric.

Use leftover ends of thread, clear bobbins etc, but try and keep the front multi coloured and the back black or plain. I use different stitch patterns or colours as I stitch across linked fabrics, eg feather stitch across all the tulle, pinking across the silks, so I can guide the scorching for the effect I want.

All this bit is much quicker than it takes to explain, but experimenting will be more effective if you take photos or make notes. I colour coded on the course which helped keep me on track 😉

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using up

At this point I stopped (fibro fatigue) but making a few at once is a good idea, even duplicates if you are testing effects for a specific piece.

Now to the hot stuff!

WARNING: HEAT IS HOT!

HEAT GUNS ARE MUCH, MUCH HOTTER THAN HAIRDRYERS AND BURNS HURT!!

SET UP YOUR WORK SPACE: open 2 windows/a door to the outside to have a through draught, have a bowl of cold water in the sink in case of burns. Have a metal surface to work on and use a foil baking tray to rest the organza sandwich on, and barbecue tongs are very handy! (£/$ shop is your friend!)

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NEVER lay a hot heat gun on fabric, it will scorch and burn in seconds and could burn the house down when everything fuses. ALWAYS work at least 3inches/10cm above the surface, coming in closer as you need to. Know where you will lay the heat gun if you get tired/ burn yourself/ the phone rings/ the dog barks… I use an upside down metal biscuit tin, not ideal, but ok if I can turn off the heat gun as I lay it down, as the ridge keeps it in place.

So, having scared you all into health and safety, prepare for fun! The artificial fabrics scorch and melt really fast, so start high up and move in slowly, ready to draw back..watching  the organza shrivel and the colourful scraps emerging is very pleasing.

Tulle and foiled fabrics go quickly too, cottons and thread are slowest, this is where threadsyour stitch patterns/colour lines come in, there will be a heat shimmer and the organza dulls down the fabrics, so follow a line to bring out the interesting scraps, and make holes in the dull parts 😉

org,notcotCotton won’t burn into holes, unless you have a top range heat gun. But you can use an incense stick, a match, a skewer heated in a gas flame or a soldering iron to make small to large scorch holes (see further down!) So, turn everything off and lay it down safely and evaluate.

dogsdinnerAfter all this, your sample may look like a dog’s dinner. Do not despair if the effect is not what you wanted! Mine looks pretty dullllll…

or does it?

Bring it to the light!

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Silhouettes give you a much better idea of where the work is really at…if you are a process artist, this is where the ideas really start flowing, because the silhouette can be so striking…

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The soldering iron can be used to make bigger holes in cotton, but I bought it more for other things, because I don’t like the mess it makes of the end, it cleans up easily, but because I have the tools for hot knifing, it’s much easier to use those, kind of like washing a food processor or a grater, the grater is slower, but if you count the washing up, tons easier 😉

More work to be done on the sandwich, my sewing machine is not happy at the moment, so part 2 may take a while…

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