31 August 2011

Book du jour

Handstitching on crumpled tissue paper, using variegated thread. Since seeing this (by Elizabeth Rutt) on Mags Ramsay's blog, and hearing someone else describe it later, I've been wanting to handstitch with variegated thread. Probably the crumpled tissue isn't the ideal background, but it was handy...

The book started as a strip, and the stitching forms the pages of the codex. The spine is a bit floppy - in fact it's not a success structurally. The line of stitching doubles back on itself as you turn the page; for me it's about "the back side of the embroidery" - which in this case is indistinguishable from the front. (Tidying away the thread ends is tricky.) This has potential - if I can figure out what it's meant to be "about", and if I don't run out of stitching patience. Next step is to stitch in an already-made book ... perhaps made of tracing paper ...
The long strip was done "just because" and includes some invisible cloudy shapes, as well as a lot of lines of holes punched by the sewing machine. The paper itself is interesting - it came wrapped round a wine bottle, and proved to be waxy in feel and rather strong. Must go back to the wine place and get some more - unfortunately it was from Borough Market, which is so crowded and chaotic I'm reluctant to return, ever.

Urban intervention

In Paris, office workers are embellishing windows with post-it notes - see more pix here. It's an art battle, says the Guardian.

Mind map

This is a procedure new to me - and I'm not finding it easy! "Everyone" has been doing mind maps for years, but for us linear thinkers, they are definitely a departure.

From all the notes I've gathered over the past couple of weeks, it felt like the entire sheet would be full, but it's looking a bit sparse ... perhaps this is the value of this system, reducing things down to a very simple and graspable form. As well as discovering what is connected to what.

The starting point was two words:
writing drawing
The photo was taken just after I drew that line connecting the two parts. By now there are a few more words here and there...

Disconcerting, though, to see some words/concepts unconnected to anything - or relevant in different ways to both parts. I see this as a third dimension, a meta-layer.

29 August 2011

Curtain Call

Ron Arad's "Curtain Call" used the space of the Roundhouse to project multiple images onto a curtain made of thousands of silicone rods. Image-providers included David Shrigley, Christian Marclay, Hussein Chalayan, and some of the projections simply repeated the image from each projector - not the best use of the space when it gives the possibility for sequence and movement across frames. 

One of the films that did work was Greenaway & Greenaway's Roundhouse, which turned the installation of rods and projectors inside out, by showing aspects of the structure of the actual building -
It was great to be in the space and see it - and you can get a flavour of it in this video.

28 August 2011

Art I like - J Carpenter

"She slept" by New Jersey lacemaker J Carpenter, who says:

"I render symbols of protection using lace that I make by hand, sometimes with traditional thread, other times with industrial materials such as rope and steel. I do so in order to examine conventional ideals concerning home, safety, and security. I am also interested in honoring female craft, normally completed in private, by making it public.

"The work juxtaposes perceived fragility of objects with subject matter representing protection. The sculptures reference ideals of safe spaces without providing physical shelter. I present viewers with this paradox to encourage them to consider their own views concerning security. The work asks: to what degree do conventional lifestyle choices keep us safe and at peace, and to what degree to they leave us exposed, even endangered?"

27 August 2011

Art I like - Eleanor Cardwell

Eleanor Cardwell's book of photos of piles of books can be seen on dailypoetics. A simple and resonant idea, with a beautiful result. (Wish I'd thought of it!)

26 August 2011

More is more

One of Marian Bantjes' valentine cards laser-cut out of xmas cards. Brilliant idea. As she says, they look better than the originals did - they "gained so much more from the process". See more of them on her website.

Is it a book?

Words on leather - jewellery by Susanne Matsche - see more here or on her website.

25 August 2011

Questions raised by Sigmar Polke's Daphne

Daphne has a 2004 publication date, in an edition of 1000 unique books. As google books says:
"In Greek mythology, Daphne is the nymph who runs from Apollo's love, determined not to marry. She ends up a[s a] Laurel tree. In contemporary art mythology, Sigmar Polke is a magician who transforms seemingly unrelated imagery and techniques into whirlwind, idiosyncratic collages that astonish the expectant eye. And then there is this object, Daphne, an artist's book created by Sigmar Polke. An oversize anthology of sources of visual inspiration, a photocopied book that paradoxically reveals the artist's hand, a sketchbook for the machine age--Daphne runs and runs, is caught by the photocopier, and runs some more, only to be bound in the end. Created directly by Polke himself, Daphne is a book with 23 chapters illustrated in large-format photocopies. Each "copy" of the book differs, as each has been photocopied and manipulated individually, pulled from the machine by the hand and watchful eye of the artist. Process is revealed, over and over again. Motifs accumulate page after page, as do small graphic cycles. The printed dot, the resolution, the subject, and the speed all determine and are determined by the apparently unpredictable and often impenetrable secret of a picture whose drafts are akin to the waste products of a copying machine. Even if the motifs in this book provide but a brief insight into the artist's hitherto secret files and archives, it is still a significant one. For the first time, we witness an artist's book with such an aura of authenticity that Walter Benjamin's seminal essay, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, bears consequent re-reading.Produced in a limited edition of 1,000 "copies," each of which has been numbered and signed by Sigmar Polke."

More photos are here, and discussion of the book's production is here (did he really do it all himself?)

In the 1960s (or 50s?) photocopied books were ground-breaking -- using the new technology of the photocopier to either subvert the book format, or to make "democratic multiples". Well, that's my impression of what was going on - but having written that, I realise I know very little about it! Research is needed...perhaps this will become the topic for my essay?

Walter Benjamin's 1936 "The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction" is mentioned in Reiner Speck's essay on Daphne (it has "such an aura of authenticity" that it hardly seems to be a "copy"), and here, Abigail Thomas quotes Benjamin again (The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity) in discussing the morphing of a banal photocopy into a precious book-object. "What is the ‘original’?" she asks.

Art I like - Cy Twombley's Lepanto Cycle

The video shows the 12 individual pictures, and closeups from each, with background music from Pergolesi's Stabat Mater - highly recommended. At the end you see the room with pictures all round the walls.

"The title Lepanto refers to an important historical event. In 1571 events culminated in a devastating sea battle in the Gulf of Patras, during the course of which the united fleets of Venice, Spain, and the Pope (the Holy League) ferreted the Turkish fleet out of its winter quarters and destroyed it on a single day in October. Even though more than 8,000 of its soldiers alone died that day, with this victory the Christian alliance seemed to have achieved the decisive turning point in Europes struggle against the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. The twelve paintings do not, of course, narrate this history directly, but rather cast their spell on the viewer initially through the eruption of brilliant colors, the concentration and splintering of forms. Even before the title reminds us of the historical event, we perceive the cycle as a magnificent wall decoration in the tradition of Henri Matisse or Claude Monet. Painted for the 2001 Venice Biennale by Cy Twombly with acrylic colors, wax crayon and graphite on canvas."

Noise etc (grumble warning)

It's official - there are too many pointless announcements on public transport! The transport minister has spoken up about it - read here. (Image from here.)

"Every little helps" when it comes to reducing the noise burden of daily life.

Which government minister will speak up about the other beeps, bleeps, blasts, and blither we are constantly exposed to?

End of rant.

Pleasant surprise: a cafe with a comfortable acoustic - Made in Camden, at the Roundhouse. At lunchtime, anyway. (Though at £2.75, the tea is a tad expensive.)

Just to mention: why oh why do busy bars etc turn UP the music at a certain time of (early) evening? Just so that no-one can hear anyone speak?

Vocabularians take note

Revive your vocabulary of insults with these new inclusions in Chambers Dictionary (shamelessly pinched from the Guardian in the interests of linguistic diversity):

Candle-waster Someone who studies late.

Chawbacon A country person.

Desk-jockey A clerical worker.

Face-ache An ugly or disagreeable person.

Hen-hussy A man who meddles with women's affairs.

Humgruffin A terrible person.

Ink-jerker A professional author or journalist.

Propeller-head An obsessively studious or technologically minded person.

Quidnunc An inquisitive, gossiping person.

Rantipole A wild, reckless person.

Slip-string A rogue.

Two-pot screamer A person who gets drunk on a comparatively small amount of alcohol (Australian).

Young fogey A young person who adopts old-fashioned opinions, appearance, etc.

24 August 2011

Materials of art

"Sigmar Polke uses old and discontinued poisonous pigments, lapis, orpiment, Schweinfurt green. But he does not stop there - he mixes traditional materials with iron, aluminium, potassium, manganese, zinc, barium and adds turpentine, alcohol, methonol, sealing wax and candle smoke to very corrosive lacquers. Many of his paintings are unstable, designed to change in time in unpredictable ways. Some are made with meteorite and tellurium - his work is a physical and chemical exploration of the world of Matter - though the title of the earthiest series - derived from a native American saying - is The Spirits who Lend Help are Invisible."

AS Byatt in the preface to "Strange and Charmed: Science and the contemporary visual arts". Image is Polke's Katastrophentheorie III from here. "The Spirits..." is painted with nickel and artificial resin and various works in the series can be seen here.

23 August 2011

Reading matter

You'd expect the London Review Cake Shop to have a copy of the magazine lying around. I leafed through it idly while savouring a chocolate swirl biscuit and decided I had to buy a copy.

Alan Bennett wanders through the libraries of his youth, with many an entrancing anecdote. Of the reference room in the library at Leeds, where he gleaned the smattering of culture that he claims got him a scholarship to Oxford, he says:

"It had glamour, too, for me and getting in first a nine one morning I felt, opening my books, as I had when a small boy at Armley Baths and I had been first in there, the one to whom it fell to break the immaculate stillness of the water, shatter the straight lines tiled on the bottom of the bath and set the day on its way."

In his earlier life as a medieval historian he spent time in the Round Room of the Public Record Office at Chancery Lane:

"The Memoranda Rolls on which I spent much of my time were long thin swatches of parchment about five feet long and one foot wide and written on both sides. Thus to turn the page required the co-operation and forbearance of most of the other readers at the table, and what would sometimes look like the cast of the Mad Hatter's tea party struggling to put wallpaper up was just me trying to turn over. A side effect of reading these unwieldy documents was that one was straightaway propelled into quite an intimate relationship with readers alongside and among those I got to know in this way as the historian Cecil Woodham-Smith.

"The author of The Great Hunger, an account of the Irish Famine, and The Reason Why, about the events leading up to the Charge of the Light Brigade, Cecil was a frail woman with a tiny bird-like skull, looking more like Elizabeth I (in later life) than Edith Sitwell ever did (and minus her sheet metal earrings). Irish, she had a Firbankian wit and a lovely turn of phrase. 'Do you know the Atlantic at all?' she once asked me and I put the line into Habeas Corpus and got a big laugh on it. From a grand Irish family she was quite snobbish; talking of someone she said: 'Then he married a Mitford ... but that's a stage everybody goes through.' Even the most ordinary remark would be given her own particular twist and she could be quite camp. Conversation had once turned, as conversations will, to fork-lift trucks. Feeling that industrial machinery might be remote from Cecil's sphere of interest I said: 'Do you know what a fork-lift truck is?' She looked at me in her best Annie Walker manner. 'I do. To my cost.'"

Also, in a letter Tim Parks wonders whether a character's inner monologue can be nuanced, if his speech is stumbling, "poor with words", and points out that in The Empty Family, stories about Pakistani immigrants to Barcelona, Colm Toibin uses "close description of movement and body language, dialogue and narrative details to suggest a rich inner life". He concludes: "The temptation for the novelist, who lives so much in language, is to imagine that all thought is expressed in words, words like his or her own, and indeed that word-driven consciousness is somehow superior. Perhaps the real achievement when evoking the inner life of a character who thinks of himself as 'poor with words' would be to suggest how rich he is without them."

But it was the article on Outsider Art by Terry Castle that led me to buy the magazine, and very interesting it was. To sum it up: "What draws me in ... is the promise - the colourful, bobbing lure - of meaning itself. ... Yet precisely what draws me in ... is precisely what shuts me out."

A while back I was given a year's sub to LRB and did try to "keep up" - it's fortnightly - but even the boring-looking articles turned out to be so very interesting, and I fell farther and farther behind, pages-turned-back copies with scarcely time to gather dust before another joined the pile beside the bed. One issue contained Bridget Riley's article on her use of repetitious drawing, which got me thinking about another aspect of drawing-as-a-tool. When the subscription ran out, though, I was rather relieved!

Another delight in this issue was Eliot Weinberger's "The Cloud Bookcase" - all titles are of actual books by "ancient chinese" authors. Among them are many mysteries, revealed in annotations; you can read them all on the LRB website.

(Not to be confused with Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec's Cloud Bookcase or Dripta Roy's Dream Bookshelf.)

21 August 2011


A calligram is a poem, phrase, or word in which the typeface, calligraphy or handwriting is arranged in a way that creates a visual image. The image created by the words expresses visually what the word, or words, say. This one is by Vincente do Rego Monteiro - see more here.

20 August 2011


Neighbouring neighbours, in varying states of repair; Herbert Rd, NW10.

19 August 2011


Art I like - Dianne Firth

Dianne Firth's simple, serene, accomplished work is among my favourites in the textile world. "Rain" was one of the winners at Canberra Quilters recent show, and a subject that appeals to me (my own interpretations are here and here).

18 August 2011

Reading chair

By Studio Toogood, via dailypoetics.

Angel station, as was

Transport hell - the narrow platform, so crowded ... so close to the edge ...

That was Angel station in 1989 (read more about Molly Dineen's film of it here); it was rebuilt and now has the longest escalators on the tube network.

Clapham Common station still has the open platform -
You can imagine what it's like at rush hour...

Both stations are on the Northern Line (aka the Misery Line), the busiest line on the Underground network -- it carries 206 million passengers a year.

Stickers on the Central Line

A recent "intervention" - see more on the blog; there's a story for each of them.

(Readers outside London may wish to know that the station's real name is White City.)

Lots more Underground life and lore on Annie Mole's blog, Going Underground.

Meaningful jewellery

"Courage", for instance -

16 August 2011

Sketchbook project progress

"Along the Lines" today was the Central Line - which has four end stations - in the west, West Ruislip -
and Ealing Broadway -
and in the east, Woodford (via Hainault), with its charming clocks -
and Epping, which is north as well as east -
(Yes, there were other people around - while we were waiting to leave Epping, a train came in to the other platform, and 39 people came down the stairs, along with four scooters, a pushchair, and a red spirit-level.)

I'm recording the project on my "travelwriting" blog. The sketchbook is almost half full -- after only the first two of the 13 lines! Mind you, the Central line is the longest - today I travelled 94 miles on it, in about five hours.

The plan was to do the tube lines in alphabetical order - but the Circle line and District line, which are next in the list, have sections closed till 23 August. The choice is to wait till then, or to add a new "rule" - along the lines of: if the next line in the list isn't running completely, go down the list till you find one that is. So far the other rules are: take a photo of the line diagram at each end station; photograph randomly (or not) along the way; write station names with connections to other tube lines in capital letters; give the times of arrival at the end stations; do the entire line on the same day; post it online quickly. And: finish the entire project as soon as possible!

Tree top walk

18 metres (59 ft) up - you really are in the treetops. High enough for me! If you can't get to Kew Gardens, do it the virtual way - here.

Meerkats of the marine world

Sand eels burrow in the sand to escape predators, but in the safety of the aquarium (the marine display at Kew Gardens) they seem to be craning their necks to ogle the visitors.

Danger signs - Kew Gardens station

15 August 2011

River view

From the Thames Clipper, on the way downriver to Greenwich. The crusty windows add a certain ambience...

The tourist trail

Queen Anne, outside St Pauls.

Sad to see

A horse chestnut fallen victim to disease - one of several on "the green" just up the road. All the others are diseased to various degrees, so it's just a matter of time before they go too.

Where did all those mushrooms come from, though!

12 August 2011

Text on quilts

I went round Festival of Quilts looking for how the "drawing" on quilts might turn into "writing", and found quite a lot of text being used - it seems to be flavour of the month. It ranges from computer-generated poems to painted and printed fragments, and stitched text is used as either a feature or as part of the background quilting.

Jette Clover's work is based on printed text and her new white pieces use script as well as print -
Gabi Mett's "Do you remember" uses text - and "pre-text" - in various interesting ways -


This quilt - by Bethan Hughes - has a personal connection. We were in a workshop together at a recent Contemporary Quilt summer school - during which there was a bit of swapping of materials going on - the music paper that Bethan has used at the bottom of this piece brought it all back -
Bethan has taken up the odd spot of "travelwriting" and showed me the jiggly bit of her journey from north Wales -
That summer school workshop was useful to Bethan; she said it was tough, but she pushed through - to the point of bravely cutting her work into smaller pieces. One of the toughest parts for me was trying to use (her) paper with text on it! The memory of it all made me reconsider the pieces I started there - if and when they resurface, I'll definitely chop and reconfigure them.

11 August 2011

Art I like - Mary Lloyd Jones

One of the best things at Festival of Quilts (to my eye) was the huge layered dye paintings of Mary Lloyd Jones -As well as intense colours and irregular shapes
she uses symbols and writing in many of her works

Of her work she writes: "My aim is that my work should reflect my identity, my relationship with the land, an awareness of history, and the treasure of our literary and oral traditions. I search for devices that will enable me to create multilayered works. This has led to my involvement with the beginnings of language, early man made marks and the Ogham and Bardic Alphabets."

In her First Language series, she has used mixed media and incorporated text to explore the theme of identity by focusing on Celtic languages, notably Welsh and its sister languages of Breton, Cornish, Irish and Scottish Gaelic.

(In response to the question "are they quilted" - they have a few lines of stitch holding the layers together.)