21 October 2014

Not everything works the way you thought it would

These bricks came down from the attic ... last used in the 1960s or early 70s. The idea wast to give the colourful ones to a friends' child.

So I spent a tranquil Sunday morning piecing together, from thicker fabrics on hand in the weekend studio, a bag for the bricks that would lie flat and become a play area, then gather itself up with bricks inside. This was from memories of a pattern I'd seen in the 70s. Which is some time ago.
80cm diameter
I had to improvise the way of holding the cord, and indeed the cord itself - it's a long piece of selvedge.
It gathers up, with a little effort...
... and leaves a bit of a tangle, and floppy bits...
Unfortunately the floppy bits will let bricks escape - I had hoped it would be "tidier" somehow. Next week I'll undo the loops and the edging and add a tunnel into which the cord will fit, and from which it will emerge at useful intervals. Aha, here is a tutorial - the cord emerges twice, not 12 times!

20 October 2014

The comfort of materials

Contemplating this ...
(found on artpropelled; originating here, with more pages shown here)
... my brain whirrs. Pigment on pages of a sketchbook ... gradations, mixtures of paint ... masking tape resist ... perhaps a book that underwent a series of interventions on each page, in no particular order ... the sort of thing a person could do to PLAY ...

Something stops me though from rushing into the studio and plunging into this new project. Well, first I had to look at the rest of Elisabeth Couloigner's work, and that got a bit overwhelming!

My hesitation is about materials. This links with a similar thought that arose in Thursday's sketchbook class, when we used colour, and I didn't venture into using pastels ... because I'm not comfortable with them, don't like what happens when I use them, don't like the bold bright colours. And yet seeing what other people did with pastels ... that inspired me a bit, seeing the overlap of colours when simple (or not-so-simple) lines were used ...

So, you have to be comfortable with materials before you willingly pick them up and "just go". After the recent daily painting project, I'm so much more comfortable with (acrylic) paint and can happily mix and fail and start again to get a desired shade if something needs matching, even though I'm still not sure which shade is necessarily desired when painting "from imagination".

Do you have a "go to" material or tool? I'm comfortable with pen or biro, unfazed by drawing the line "wrong" when working fast - the pen feels like an extension of my eye, rather than something that must tell a recognisable truth to a critical viewer.

And I'm comfortable with a needle and thread, and with colourful fabric to choose from.

But I'm not comfortable - or even excited about - adding a different colour that has to be "thought up", even though I've played about with this for months. Hmm, for the daily painting of the ever-changing stripey picture, I had certain rules, even though they weren't written down... rules about how many colours to use per session (as few as possible), about not having leftover paint, about the shapes that were appearing. Rules, or a method (which is nothing if not implicit rules...) of how to start and what to do next. And an idea of what it will be like when it's "finished".

Play, now ... that has no rules (we are not playing a competitive game or sport). The starting point is vague ... you move a few things around. What happens next at any point is quite possibly random or accidental. "What it looks like" may not matter at any stage, it's about the process of doing, of playing. There is no predefined outcome ... you play till you're played out.

Playing with materials - putting lines or colour or pattern or marks on a scrap of paper or sketchbook page - what a fun thing to do. Remember colouring books? - as children we didn't feel compelled to colour all the pages before moving on to the next book ... we simply left blank the pictures that didn't appeal. (But oh boy, there were "good colourers" and "messy people"... and now we have inner critics...)

Well then ... let's play with one of our "uncomfortable" materials, say for 15 minutes a day for a week. First up for me is - oil pastels.

To end, another of Elisabeth Couloigner's pages from "I'm Searching" -

Moan on Monday - adverbial overload

The world is sad about Colonel Meow (via)
Does no-one simply "die" - or rather, do newspaper reports not allow them to simply die? Every time you read a report of a death, the person has "sadly died". Soon there will be a new word in the language: sadlydied, replacing died ... in much the same way that "suggested" has replaced "said" in recent years (but that's another rant altogether).

I suspect a subeditor was at work in this sentence: "At present, about 8,000 people have been confirmed as diagnosed with Ebola, and of those 3,865 have, sadly, died. " Does the Guardian's style book have guidance on sadly died, detailing situations in which it needs to be bracketed by commas?

A search for "sadly died" (in quotes, entire phrase) gets only 549,000 hits ... perhaps there's hope yet. No, wait - "sadly he died" (no quotes) gets 22,600,000 hits, and "sadly she died" gets 5,240,000 ... and "sadly died", no quotes, gets 22,700,000, presumably including a lot of the "he"s and "she"s.

Sadly here can mean "unfortunately" ... but the ludicrous spectre of the person being sad to be dying will keep rearing its head as I read yet another occurrence of the phrase.

Furthermore, a death toll, eg in the current ebola outbreak, isn't just high (48% of those infected), but "tragically high" ... possibly because a nice long word was needed (high is just four letters, after all), and nothing sensible could be thought of.

19 October 2014

Simply gorgeous

Strip woven cloth made by the Ewe people of Togo (found here). Fabulous. I'm imagining using the stripeyness of the colourful squares for a scrappy quilt - with red lines of quilting on grey.

What makes it dance is the light and dark yellow, and the way thin lines of red are used throughout.


Without writing things down, how do we remember?

The saying goes: I hear it and forget; I see it and remember; I do it and understand.

I heard birdsong and don't know what bird it is. I see artworks and sometimes remember the name of the artist. I follow a knitting pattern and get lost ... but once I understand the structure, I can look back and see where it's gone wrong. Different sorts of memory are at work, and  there are surely ways to enhance each of them.

One such is the phrase or sentence that helps us to remember lists - Roy G. Biv for the colours of the rainbow, for instance. Another method is to have a mental set of places and put objects in each one. Remember names by associating them with something meaningful to you. 

But what about the wider picture? In oral cultures, memory boards help to maintain and transmit historical knowledge. Someone who knows how to read them passes on the knowledge through a performance. 

Lukasa (memory board) in the form of a woman with a tortoise body. Luba culture, Congo (via)
"Lukasa, or memory boards, are hand-held wooden objects that present a conceptual map of fundamental aspects of Luba culture. They are at once illustrations of the Luba political system, historical chronicles of the Luba state, and territorial diagrams of local chiefdoms. Each board's design is unique and represents the divine revelations of a spirit medium expressed in sculptural form ... many lukasa utilize a system of denotation based on masses of shells and beads affixed to their wooden surfaces." (via)

" These wooden memory boards are used by Luba kings, diviners, geneologists and court historians in the Congo. The Lukasa is a memory aid, a means for evoking events, places and names which assist in initiation ceremonies. According to  A History of Art in Africa, "It stimulates thought and instructs in sacred lore, culture heroes, migrations, and sacred rule ...A configuration of beads, shells and pins coded by size and colour on one side refers to kings' lists. Beads may stand for individuals, a large bead encircled by smaller ones perhaps representing a chief and his entourage. Bead arrangements also refer to proverbs and praise phrases" as well as migratory paths and roads." (via)

" a great deal of ritual performance and ceremonial song is linked to repeating pragmatic and rational knowledge. This includes astronomical observations used to retain a calendar closely related to resource availability – be it from hunting, gathering or farming. Star patterns are often used as representations of mythological characters whose stories also encode rational knowledge." (via)

"Sets of locations in the landscape have been used as memory aids – the most effective memory aid known. ... the songlines of the Australian cultures, the sacred trails of the Native Americans and sacred paths found in cultures around the world served the needs of memory in exactly the same way." This is the method of loci, attributed to the Greek and Roman orators.

Medieval manuscripts too were designed as miniature memory spaces.
"In the Middle Ages, the memory arts changed purpose from the oratory of classical times to become the domain of the monks wishing to memorise great slabs of religious tracts. Monks were expected to memorise, at a minimum, all 150 psalms, a task which took somewhere between six months and three years.

"The heavily illustrated handwritten manuscripts were seen as a prompt for medieval memory when books were extremely rare and horrendously expensive. The words were enmeshed in images which match the classical recommendations for making information far more memorable: grotesque and violent acts along with fanciful beasts, strange figures, gross ugliness and extraordinary beauty. It was common to have each chapter start with a coloured initial, alternating between red and blue, with repeated letters each having their own design, such as in the Smithfield Decretal shown above."

To end, a contentious statement from the memoryspaces.com.au blog: "Art in oral cultures is primarily a memory aid to the knowledge system while art in literate cultures is primarily aesthetic."

18 October 2014

Why do we wait so long?

After weeks or is it months of meaning to make a new cover for the little ironing board, I finally did it! A manky towel gives it more padding. 
Times like this, you think: "Why did I wait so long to do this?"

Little things make a big difference. It's such a pleasure to use the board now. No more catching the iron in the ripped bit...

Contemporary art sketchbook walk - week 3

The theme for the week was colour; as it turned out, the shows were mostly black and white, but we gamely drew with coloured pencils and added accents with pastels... 

First stop, Iniva on Rivington Street, where a delightful primary school class was enjoying the "forgotten portraits", including the Black African Choir that toured Britain, coming from South Africa and dressing in "native costume" for publicity purposes - photographs "deeply buried" in the Hulton archive for 120 years. "The Black Chronicles II" runs till 29 November.
London Stereoscopic Photographic Society, 1891-3 (via)
Record books of the London Stereoscopic Society
Then to Calvert 22, a gallery that deals in contemporary Russian art; the current show is Beyond Zero, and includes an intriguing 1965 film, by  visual-effects pioneer Pavel Klushantsev, about the space race, from the Russian point of view ... all those American rockets that simply missed their moon target...
The show includes "a full set of hand-painted colour plates from Mikhail Matyushin’s Reference Book on Colour for the first time in the UK. Matyushin was an avant-garde artist, a musician and a close associate of Kazimir Malevich. Together with his students, Matyushin staged practical experiments to test his idea of ‘expanded vision’. In studying how a primary colour interacted with a surrounding colour, he observed how the neutral space between the two became tinged with a secondary tint. The results, recorded in these hand-painted tables in 1932, have helped generations of architects and designers find harmonious colour schemes for their work."

At Kate MacGarry is Ben Rivers' show "Things" (till 25 October); rather than watching the video I drew "Bedroom" -
Digital print, 102.5cm square, on the gallery's red wall
Next door, Johnathan Viner is showing "Goliad" by Will Boone (till 8 November) - " a new series of paintings which evolved from previous works which superimposed the letters of a word (also the paintings title) on the canvases' surface, thereby treading a fine line between legibility and abstraction" -
Hot seats, monoprinted canvases, and large works of layered stencilling by Will Boone

Lovely old bit of window-opening machinery; the gallery was a printing shop

Sharing sketchbooks over a delicious mocha
 Final stop: on Redchurch Street (artist )
Love the red double doors, very business-like

At the end of the day, sometimes a photo is all you need
Seeing how other people had augmented their sketchbooks from previous weeks by sticking in information and photos, and working on painted pages, I carried on working on my pages at home, sticking in photos, adding more colour (note to self: try oil pastels and chalks sometime soon), and writing a few notes about the works seen.
Blind drawings and overlaid images

Leaving well enough alone (rather than colouring-in)

The drawing made in the gallery (right) translated into cloth and collage; it includes
a transparent layer, as did the original

17 October 2014

Audacious installation

"Olafur Eliasson fills modern art museum with "giant landscape" of rocks." (via)

He filled an entire wing of Denmark's Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (north of Copenhagen) with a landscape of stones meant to emulate a riverbed. More photos are here.

The exhibition is on until 1st April 2015.

A little more art in W1

Claudi Casanovas, of whose show and work I wrote in 2009, has new work at Erskine, Hall & Coe (till 23 Oct) - all the work is shown online but here is my own overview -

We puzzled about how he got that conglomerate texture, so like stones, and whether the pieces were hollow.

"He explores complex ideas using a mixture of local and imported clays, subjecting both to physical, chemical and esthetic experiments. Organic materials, metals and metal oxides create porous openings and unusual colors in the unglazed surface. After firing, the piece is subjected to further cutting, sandblasting and polishing. The final sculpture is a very personal expression of fundamental emotional ties with the earth." (via)

Also at the gallery, a few drawings by Matthew Harris - strips of waxy paper sewn together with long, couched threads -
Mixed media on paper, bound with waxed threads
On to Marlborough Fine Art to see Paula Rego's "The Last King of Portugal" ... her always-interesting "slightly Freudian" scenarios and figures, this time mainly in pastels -
 All the pictures are on the gallery's website, at least till the show ends (25 Oct).
"Get out of here you and your filth" 120 x 160 cm (via)
Passing quickly by Dover Street Market - something to investigate another day -
Window by Phoebe English and Set Designer Phillip Cooper created using
components referencing Phoebe’s SS15 collection

16 October 2014

Poetry Thursday - Java Jive by The Inkspots

You're pouring out your morning coffee and a phrase, a line, comes to you ... For me today, it was "cuppa cuppa cuppa cup" - where was that from? A quick search led to this - Java Jive, sung by The Inkspots in 1940.
Lyrics are by Milton Drake (who also wrote the words to Mairzy Doats). The words need to be taken off the page and into a song to make sense ... perhaps this is the very opposite of poetry?

I love coffee, I love tea
I love the java jive and it loves me
Coffee and tea and the jiving and me
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup!
I love java, sweet and hot
Whoops! Mr. Moto, I'm a coffee pot
Shoot me the pot and I'll pour me a shot
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup!
Oh, slip me a slug from the wonderful mug
And I cut a rug till I'm snug in a jug
A slice of onion and a raw one, draw one.

Waiter, waiter, percolator!
I love coffee, I love tea
I love the java jive and it loves me
Coffee and tea and the jiving and me
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup!
Boston bean, soy bean
Lima bean, string bean.
You know that I'm not keen for a bean
Unless it is a cheery coffee bean.

I love coffee, I love tea
I love the java jive and it loves me
Coffee and tea and the jiving and me
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup!
I love java, sweet and hot
Whoops! Mr. Moto, I'm a coffee pot
Shoot me the pot and I'll pour me a shot
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup!
Oh, slip me a slug from the wonderful mug
And I cut a rug till I'm snug in a jug
Drop me a nickel in my pot, Joe, Taking it slow.

Waiter, waiter, percolator!
I love coffee, I love tea
I love the java jive and it loves me
Coffee and tea and the jiving and me
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup

The words hide mysteries ... Mr Moto was the fictional Japanese secret agent in eight films starting in 1937, but how is he connected with coffee?* "A slice of onion" - ? - lunch counter slang is one suggestion for that ... or just filling up the lines. "Think prohibition slang" is another suggestion, which leads to the idea that "a raw one" could be a hangover cure - and wasn't coffee itself a remedy for hangover?

"Cut a rug" = to dance, especially in a vigorous manner and in one of the dance styles of the first half of the twentieth century. "Tea" is slang for weed [itself slang for cannabis], "cabbage" and "green" can refer to money. "Drop me a nickel" ... from Louis Armstrong's delightful account of being busted in 1931 we learn that to drop a nickel is to put a nickel (5 cents) into a telephone is to call the cops and stoolpigeon on someone ... but is that relevant here?

Of "cheery coffee bean" Wikipedia says: "The song "Java Jive", a hit song for The Ink Spots in 1940, originally featured the couplet "I'm not keen about a bean / Unless it is a 'cheery beery bean'", as a pun on Ciribiribin, but the Ink Spots' lead singer inadvertently sang it as "cheery cheery bean", and recordings by subsequent artists have generally either followed suit or changed it to "chili chili bean"."

*As with "true" poetry, there are layers under the surface, and varying readings. One interpretation (halfway down this page) suggests the entire song is about personal recreational use of controlled substances:

'Whoops, Mister Moto, I'm a coffee pot' is, on the surface, a reference to pop culture: Peter Lorre films. At that surface level the line is incoherent. Everything falls into place if we interpret it as drug slang: 

Whoops, Mr Moto!
(Whoops, Mr Marijuana Supplier!)
I'm a coffee pot!
(I blend pills/beans with my pot!)
Shoot me the pot
(Give me the marijuana)
and I'll pour me a shot 
(I'll pour in my special ingredients)

As with other cryptic songs, from 'Follow the Drinking Gourd' to 'Proud Mary' and 'Poker Face', the surface meaning of the words is what gets the lyrics past censors and makes the song acceptable to a general audience. The words make a kind of sense on a surface level as long as the listener isn't paying much attention. Attentive listeners find quickly, though, that the literal surface meanings have trouble adding up to anything coherent. The difficulties point to code--slang--as key in understanding the song. 

"Moto" is also Mexican Spanish slang for marijuana.

(If that's the case, what might Mairzy Doats (1944) be about...? Nothing, it seems: it's a novelty song based on a nursery rhyme.)

All that speculation aside, I love the unexpectedness and sheer nonsense of "waiter waiter percolator" in the song.
1940s percolator - the colour of coffee splashing up into the
glass knob showed how the brewing was coming along

15 October 2014

Contemporary art sketchbook walk - week 2

The first gallery we went to seemed to be out for lunch - no-one there to let us in... so it was on to the next, past some east end Des Res areas -
An old sign carved into the bricks at the end of the building -
The entrance to Cell project space was through a tropical passageway and up the stairs -
into Yuri Pattison's installation, Free Traveller (till 2 November) - video work, sculpture, and a new online work -
Then on to Hada Contemporary on Vyner Street, showing portraits by Chun Kyungwoo (till 30 November), whose work "explores the preconditions that allow human contact". The photographs are taken with long exposures during which the subjects move about a bit, hence the blur. For this group, each man came, at different times, and sat for the number of minutes of his age;
Portraits based on connection - the configuration of the character "ren" which means "human being" -
Along the way to coffee and the passing-around of sketchbooks, planters made from pallets -
Then to Wilkinson and the work of Jewyo Rhii (till 26 October) - cooling systems, ersatz typewriters, strangely cobbled-together objects with a not-quite-whimsical edge -

I loved the look of the ice on the battered tins -

Another gallery door along the way -
Finally to Acme project space, for Sarah Duffy's "Breathless" (till 19 Oct) - her interest in ventriloquism (belly speaking) led to learning to sing without moving her lips.
The gallery plan, or rather the list of works, includes an invisible component - the live ventriloquy performance of the opening night. It was rather compelling to watch the video, as it was.

Our topic for the week was tone, so we started by blackening some pages with charcoal, then both drawing and rubbing out. Of course the charcoal rubs off and/or transfers, but I liked what it did on the blank pages opposite, for instance when I later drew more of the shelving -

Suddenly noticing

During and since the CQ retreat I spent much time looking at and thinking about books and websites about Sian Bowen's work, and have been happily piercing different types of paper with various implements ... but this process lacked something important, namely subject matter. Instead of working on a theme or towards something, I've merely been working with materials.

Reading the Nova Zembla book at my usual place at the kitchen table this morning, I suddenly noticed the so-familiar shapes of stairs and the door on the landing, ajar and lit from behind, and started thinking about light and shadow and thresholds and perspective and liminality and transience and luminosity and lumens and photons and how light doesn't bend around corners, so what's happening when the light we see comes from around the corner?

It took only a moment to catch these thoughts (=light) via the camera -
Once invisible, these have suddenly become unavoidably visible spaces as I move around and pay attention to them. 

Elsewhere, on two floors, two doors occupy a corner -
As I think about this, the "empty" space reconsitutes itself (is this what happened to Rachel Whiteread at some point?)
Rachel Whiteread's Stairs (via)
Doors and stairs were my chief fascinations during the foundation course, and house plans have always been an interest, thanks to living ages 9-18 in a house under constant construction or extension - I'd spend hours imagining the 2D plans in my father's building magazines as 3D, real, houses. 

Looking just now for a remembered painting, or photo, of some "impossible" doors (was it by Duchamp? - yes!)
Sometimes you hit it lucky with the sites you find things on .. this one helpfully adds: "door frames set at right angles with one door between them so that when the door closes in one frame it opens  in the other. A clever way to illustrate contradiction and transition at the same time" - transition yes, but contradiction I'd not thought of, and it's intriguing to think of light being a contradiction (literally, "saying against") of dark ... and its transition - how it weakens, through distance, into dark. And then the blockage offered by walls, making it possible for light to fill a space. 

Duchamp, that useful artist, also offers this installation, His Twine - 
in which the "rays" occupying the space remind me of the way light can bounce between mirrors. Somewhere I have a wonderful photo taken inside a mirrored cube, showing a million points of light, but it's not easily findable at the moment.  (Instead, have a look at the space-filling work of Monika Grzymala.)

Ah, mirrors - another dimension, a trickery! Consider these, taken at BMA House, or these -

But I digress. The starting point was light behind a door, outlining its fore-edge, spilling(?) over the other edges ... no, more of a seeping beyond them. Doors, thresholds, spaces, light ... vestiges, or stirrings, of an idea that may prove ephemeral or may morph into something else.