27 September 2008

The Big Draw

A month of drawing-related events was launched last night at the Wellcome Collection with a lot of events. The biggest draw was Nathan 'Flutebox' Lee, wired up to an electrocardiogram, with the readout projected on the screen:and on another screen, cartoonist Steven Appleby drawing what might be going on in his head:

I gathered from the lectures (by professors Arthur Miller and Semir Zeki) that the world is merely a mathematical construct and a problem in physics has been finding ways to visualise these schema, and that ambiguity is the essence of art -- reality happens in the brain, not the world, and although perception is hard wired, colour is unambiguous: we know what colour we're seeing, never mind the lighting conditions. Yes that sounds garbled - I wasn't taking notes. Lots to think about.

I'm truly sorry to have to miss the talk on snails by geneticist Steve Jones - Snails in art, the joy of snails, and the art of camouflage.

26 September 2008

Celtic connections

How to make a quilt on a celtic theme without using interlacing motifs? This is my personal challenge-within-a-challenge, as I plan a 24" square piece for CQ's challenge for the Quilters' Guild AGM in March 2009. The theme is Celtic Connections, and for some reason my first thought was of Visigoths, who made objects like this crown:
But it turns out the Visigoths weren't celts; in fact their kingdom (418-508) didn't include the celtic areas in northern Spain, Asturias and Galicia.

And celts fall into two linguistic groups, known as P and Q, what a coincidence for a P&Q challenge! Of the seven celtic nations, P celts comprise Welsh, Cornish,Breton; Q celts comprise Irish, Scottish, Manx, Galician. Before contact with the Latin world, Q celts didn't have a P sound, they used a sound that's usually written as C -- so in Welsh the word for head is "penn" and in Ireland it's "ceann".

But it's visual connections we're after -- language=writing, yes? Think runes ... think ogham script - and I'd better check out the celtic connection of those -- they could turn out to be anglo-saxon or norse...Some fascinating info about runes: 'The name "rune" is a fairly recent term, and was originally thought to have evolved from the German word raunen, which means "to cut or carve." Yet an examination of older German dictionaries long since retired from general use reveals that raunen once meant "to whisper secrets" and "Rune" (always capitalized then) was the noun for "secret" (also written "Run" or "Runa").'In thinking about this topic, I'm pulling relevant books off the shelf and leafing through, waiting for the random thoughts. Making little sketches on backs of envelopes. Most of all, it's amazing to have the wonderful resource of the internet to roam around in. This bit of background conjures up many visions:
  • To the ancients, the Heavens appeared to wheel overhead, turning on an axis which points to the north polar stars. At the crown of the axis, a circle of stars revolved about a fixed point, the Celestial Pole, which was believed to be the location of Heaven. At the base of the axis was the Omphalos, the circular altar of the Goddess' temple. The universe of stars turning on this axis formed a spiral path, or stairway, on which souls ascended to Heaven.

  • This Sun-wise, clockwise, or deiseal (Gaelic), motion of the spirals represented the Summer Sun. The continuous spirals with seemingly no beginning or end signified that as one cycle ended another began ­ eternal life. The spiral's never-ending, always expanding, motion also symbolized the ever- increasing nature of information and knowledge. Many of these symbols often also appeared in triplicate, a sign of the divine.

Ah yes, spirals fraught with symbolism -

25 September 2008

More little things that give pleasure

Croutons made from going-stale bread, fried in a satisfying amount of butter (in my favourite Circulon frying pan). My grandmother used to make this as an after-school treat. "Kampf den Verderb"; waste not, want not!

Nautical needlework

This covers a filofax-type binder I bought in Halifax, Nova Scotia, about 25 years ago - for $1.25 (it still has its price tag). I painted the canvas before stitching with space-dyed silk. There's piping round the edges, and useful pockets formed by the inside strips that keep the cover on.

It was mindless fun to stitch, and the silkiness continues to be a delight to the fingers. The things you use every day should give you pleasure every time, don't you think?

24 September 2008

Art inconnu

Andre Brasilier (b.1929) is an artist new to me. This is Sousbois, 1997

He "has a very personal way of being non-figurative inside figuration."

Found him via the artinconnu blog - lots of interesting art there!

Workshop quilt done

At my desk in the early autumnal mornings, this is great to wrap up in - the fleece makes it very cosy and flexible. I loved doing the machine quilting and am fantasising about making some "yardage" for an at-home garment -- you can get very cold when you're sitting still.

At the right of the desk, on its way towards being hung on the wall, is my newly-received purchase, "The Lake/The Moon" by Dorothy Caldwell.

23 September 2008

Move over, David Mach

Excuse the bad photos - they were shot in haste from the bus. It took a while to realise what I was looking at, and to get the camera out before the bus moved on.The dinosaur in Harvey Nichols' window display is made of coat hangers -
which brings to mind David Mach's coat-hanger constructions -
This one is called Hooker.

Old news

Last week's paper. Great photo of Canary Wharf - here's another view, distantly misty, from Hampstead Heath in the early morning -bringing to mind lines from Wordsworth's "On Westminster Bridge" -

This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning

Ah, poetry -- news that stays news (was it TS Eliot who said that?)

22 September 2008

Are you easily bored? As a kid, did you often say "I'm bored" - and what did you want to have happen? Certainly not to be given a chore to do! You probably wanted to get involved in something new, something that your parent or friend made exciting. There might have been a laziness component - you wanted someone else to do the hard work of thinking something up. (In my childhood, before the days of computer games, my family didn't have a television. Though we had a live-in grandma who played games and read stories, I did yearn for television.)

Here's a nice long article about research into boredom. The strapline sums it up:

"Battling boredom, researchers say, means finding focus, living in the moment, and having something to live for"

Here are a couple of key points from this Scientific American article:

- Boredom is not a unified concept but may comprise several varieties, including the transient type that occurs while waiting in line and so-called existential boredom that accompanies a profound dissatisfaction with life.

- Boredom is linked to both emotional factors and personality traits. Problems with attention also play a role, and thus techniques that improve a person’s ability to focus may diminish boredom.

Susan Sontag has another perspective: "Boredom is just the reverse side of fascination: both depend on being outside rather than inside a situation, and one leads to the other."

People nearing retirement might feel bored at work because they're trying to distance themselves from something that they've been very involved in. Or, it might be because they aren't given interesting, longer-term projects any more. Perhaps both these things make their attention wander, and they lose focus?

This "boredom box" was made in a course where we had to choose an emotion and illustrate it.

Monochrome monotony; pointlessness.

In terms of art, how is boredom related to being blocked ... which comes first?

19 September 2008

Rooms and views

"You need a room with no view so imagination can meet memory in the dark." (Annie Dillard)

I spend a lot of time, at the computer, staring at my woodchip wallpaper, or resting the eyes on a picture of a frosty garden found in some magazine. The brain is elsewhere....

In the studio, there's now a "worktable" of sorts near the window - for the light. The view there is of the work in hand. The radio is on, engaging a different modality.

And this -is a different sort of view altogether. It's nowhere I've been, and I can't remember where the picture is from - but don't we all have a special place in our mind or memory where we store these kinds of views?

18 September 2008

Dogs' day

As promised, more about the excitement of Queen's Park Day -- the dressed-up dog competition! This one's rarin' to go -
Turns out he's an invalid, ready to be put to bed -Final adjustments -
"Puppy power" all right -
Quite simply a pirate -
Bride and bridesmaid -
My favourite - Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf that ate grandma -Later, the dog handlers showed what could be done by training rescue dogs (abandonned or mistreated dogs that have been given new homes). To please their owners, the dogs will jump through fireand walk along a pair of scaffolding polesFor other dogs, a quiet moment at the end of the day -

Walking in the air

Paralysed by "business" overload, I escaped and went with a friend to see an Artangel installation, and hear a talk by the artist. Catherine Yass's High Wire is four films projected on the walls of a big room (the German Gymnasium), one of an aerial view of a housing estate in North Glasgow (Red Road) and the other three of a man walking a tightrope between two of the buildings - two shots from below and the other taken by the camera on his head. It was unexpected, and I get quite queasy even thinking about it. (I have no desire to see the film Man on Wire!)
The talk was in interview format and well attended. The catalogue has an essay on the history and philosophy of highwire walking by Steven Connor, who is giving a talk on Weds 22 October - he's "a writer and broadcaster and Professor of Modern Literature and Theory at Birkbeck College, London. He has published important studies on ventriloquism and the history of sound and is working on a new book concerning the poetics of the air."
In a side room are three lightboxes of views of the housing estate, in black-white negative but with a blueish sky, with the tightrope added by scratching into the negatives. It shows as a bright, ragged line among the bleached detail of the photos. Catherine Yass mentioned the sense of defilement of scratching up photographic negatives.
As my friend said, there wasn't anything in the talk that we couldn't have figured out for ourselves - but for me, hearing about the ideas embodied in the work brought them to the surface. I wouldn't have been able to juxtapose the social-utopia ideas of the changing nature of housing estates, for instance (tower blocks will be pulled down when the last residents move out - lowrises are being built all around). It's there in the leaflet, which I've just now read: the Red Road scheme "when built in the 1960s was the highest social housing in Europe, a triumph of the city planners' dreams to rebuild the city. Into the void between the planners' concrete dreams, another kind of dreamer, the French high-wire artist Didier Pasquette, steps out, at first gracefully, then hesitantly, and then he stops..."
He stopped because the wind, though slight, had set up a vibration in the wire - and he had to walk backwards - "c'est impossible" he shouted - you don't hear that on the film, just the noise of the air. Lisa and I happened to be watching the film just at that point, and yes the stopping was a bit puzzling. The explanation isn't in the leaflet. Interesting to speculate on the various possible outcomes of a project like this, and how that would affect its subsequent presentation.
Leaflet again: "HIGH WIRE" is the ultimate expression of [Yass's] interest in the vertiginous view. The new work juxtaposes the containment of the concrete blocks and the modernist idealism of streets reaching into the sky with the self-contained mental space of the high wire artist and the freedom of walking in the air." Hmm, I'd disagree with that last bit - can it be freedom if you're balancing on a thin wire, that had to be put there? I see it more as danger, risk - ok maybe that's a kind of freedom?
The catalogue has lovely endpapers - photos of the long stretch of Red Road in 1925, one looking toward the city, the other looking away. A man sits on the wall to connect the two. Among the essays is a stretch of side-on photos of the walker against a background of clouds, with the occasional bird passing by.

17 September 2008

The little things that give pleasure

The small daily pleasures are hardly trivial, quite the opposite in fact. Like Sally, I think it's worthwhile to notice, acknowledge, and record them.

And every item has a story...The "japanese" bowl on the right is my morning-porridge bowl. They came from the Musee Guimet in Paris, acquired on the way back from a meeting in Barcelona, while travelling by train; I arranged to have a day in Paris and spent it all at the Guimet, looking at oriental art and having a nice lunch in the restaurant. Love that museum!

And the blueberry-blue countertop continues to give pleasure. It looks particularly good when piled with the ingredients for ratatouille - the gold of onions, the dark green of courgettes/zucchini, the red of tomatoes, the dark purple gleam of aubergines/eggplant.

Sunday in the park

Queen's Park Day has grown from just a few stalls, about 20 years ago, to splendid proportions - not just lots of stalls representing neighbourhood groups and businesses - everything from Postnatal Pilates to the National Widows' Association - along with food stalls and bouncy castles, but displays of dog handling and birds of prey, and parades of children -and dogs! - in costume.

Prolific LQ member Sabi whipped up all this from fabrics in her stash - and LQ chairman Judy did a roaring trade with raffle tickets for the group's Dear Jane quilt. Proceeds go to North London Hospice and Hope for Grace Kodino, a charity dedicated to making birth safer in Chad, central Africa.
Cupcakes were a popular item on other stalls raising money for charity -
London Independent Photography - Queen's Park Group - got lots of visitors.
Quentin Ball is one of the photographers involved -
Coming next - the dressed up dogs, marvellous eagles, and intrepid dogs. It was a great day, miraculously sunny, with lots and lots of people having a good time. Community London at its best.

16 September 2008

LQ at Indian Cottage

A crowd of women around the gates of our meeting venue - London Quilters were locked out! But across the road the owner of Indian Cottage (9 Fairhazel Gardens, Swiss Cottage) let us use his basement dining room. It was a squeeze but very congenial! And we were all very grateful -The Chairman's Challenge - can the group make 100 Linus quilts by the October meeting? - produced its first dozen -
Lisa Walton had to forgo projector and slides, but the good lighting in this ad hoc venue made up for that. An entertaining and informative talk, as was her workshop. Here's her beading sampler -
and she passed her quilts around for examination and photographing -
Show'n'tell brought this log cabin from Janice, recently shown at Hever -
Lucy's "Strawberry Jam" made from a jelly roll [technical term] hadthe perfect strawberry fabric on the back -
Tricia's beach hut cushion -Linda's "Thin Blue Line" entry -My "eyelash quilt" from Lisa's workshop had reached this stage in the quilting - border done (and binding on) but about 1/4 left to quilt. I'm revelling in the loopy pattern and might not be able to resist filling in the blank bits with more quilting in a different colour thread.
After the meeting, our host brought down plates of yummy samosas - what a great guy! (That address again is Indian Cottage, 9 Fairhazel Gardens - tube stations Swiss Cottage or Finchley Road.)

And when I got home, the beautiful moon was high in the sky -