14 December 2017

Poetry Thursday - Microbial Museum by Maya Chowdhry

Gas bubbles in Antarctic ice. Photo: NASA
"reservoirs of extinct creatures" (via)
Microbial Museum
April ship sets sail, sea freezes ripples, leaves Rothera
behind. One hundred and fifty thousand years of snowfall in
cylindrical samples, bubble-wrapped, boxed in styrofoam,
cores wrenched from ice caverns to Immingham.
Drill incises annulus ice cuttings spiral surface. Statistics
held in water vapour measure up to eons of weather.
Blueprints of other lives, the oldest ice sequesters
reservoirs of extinct creatures resurrected.
Suspending cable sonars frozen microbial cells
immortal bugs from bacteriasicles emerge, grow, divide.
Prehistoric pestilence thaws, allows ancient genes to mix with
modern ones. Skiing genotype slaloms through DNA markers,
mutating the ocean, creeping into the unsuspecting cells
of species climbing the ladder to life.
The future is thawed, dispatched into a white out.
- Maya Chowdhry (via)


"Finding the poetry in scientific vocabulary, this work is alive to the marvels of its discoveries as well as the ecological peril it reports" is how the Guardian, where this poem appeared, sums it up. Here, Carol Rumens gives background and gently unpicks the poem, helping us make sense of the terse style (like a scientist's notebook). The comments from readers, at the ed of the article, often take a poetic route themselves.

Maya Chowdhry devotes her recent poetry collection, Fossil (2016), to investigating, "with wit and precision", unusual geological phenomena and the life cycles of various species, but her larger goal is public and eco-political. Her recent work explores the juxtaposition and conflicts of new technologies with the ‘natural world’ - she uses film, text, animation, photography, augmented reality and the web. Her work has been exhibited in and around canals, in public gardens, theatres, galleries, the web and on television. See some of it here.

13 December 2017

Latest enthusiasm

Continuing with the "overlapping people" idea - playing around to see where it might go....

Possibly the first attempt is the best so far - and I've now abandoned my "no peeking" rule to try to place the components "interestingly", based on what's gone on in the "blind" versions - contrast of scale, for one thing ... and it helps to have arms and legs visible.

That latter has led to concentration on the sports pages, which often show the whole body, in action - so the shapes are interesting, arms and legs all over the place! Spot the footballers here, and spot the politician -
This morning I leapt out of bed, in a hurry to get on with it -

Layering up tissue paper and cutting out shapes from the newspaper. Tissue paper to see if there were interesting colour blends in the overlaps ... no, not transparent enough - it might work with colouring in the drawn shapes with watercolour, or (on fabric) thinned acrylic.


Pastel colours? for sports"men"? I kinda like that....

I also like the idea of fitting in a bit of "footballer's dream" glamour ... add some more contrast ...
These shapes would all be intersecting black outlines (the glamour girl in white?) or else pastel solids, overlapping. Maybe. If it ever gets further than this initial enthusiasm ... if I can continue to focus on it for a bit. 

12 December 2017

Drawing Tuesday - Tate Modern

The day started, for me, with a quick look into the Soviet exhibition ... it needed more time than was available, so needs going back to; it's on till 25 Feb.
Postcards in the "Red Star over Russia" shop
 I settled down in front of this "pavilion" by Cristina Iglesias -

My drawing was about figuring out the structure and guessing the words...
 Jo found a tee-shirt in the Soviet shop intriguing -
 Carol gathered glimpses of the area around the Tate -
 Joyce found a work by Louise Nevelson -
 ... as did Judith -
 Janet B was intrigued by a floating sculpture and its shadow ...
 ... which was tonally reversed in her photograph -
 Mags had been to a nearby textile exhibition, A Sense of Place, and brought along the booklet
 ... and showed the work she's doing in her current painting course -
 Carol's extracurricular activity was a tiny felted pot -
 Janet B brought along the drawing she did in Dundee last week -
 Several of us had used the same leaf-rubbing technique at various points ...
 Several of us went along to the textile exhibition, by ViewSeven - here are some general shots.



 And the gallery floor was fascinatingly patched!




11 December 2017

Upcoming textile exhibitions

The latest issue of Art Quarterly (winter 2017) has an article about upcoming textile exhibitions round the UK.

Norwegian weaver Hannah Ryggen is at Modern Art Oxford till Feb 18. Living in a village, she was self taught: "Weaving belonged to a tradition which came from the culture of farms" (via). Her 1930s works are very political; she's speaking out about her experience: "the works have a very immediate message, but they're done with this incredibly slow, careful medium [tapestry]."
Hannah Ryggen: jul Kvale, 1956 (via)
If you went to Entangled Threads and Making exhibition in Margate, you would have seen her anti-fascist tapestry 6 October 1942 there, and Ann Cathrin November Hoibo's response, two woven panels. 

(This art-magazine review of the Entangled exhibition, also by Hettie Judah, puts the show into more than one context:
"[Christine] Löhr’s [fragile structures] occupy a sphere of making that ‘Entangled’ embraces quite unequivocally: craft is presented here – as per Bauhaus philosophy – on equal footing with art: specifically those practices that are awake to the possibilities of hand production (and which, of late, have drawn heartily on craft traditions including tapestry, embroidery and ceramics). This, today, is a more politically audacious move than the decision to dedicate the show entirely to female artists. But, given that it opened a week after women all over the world took up their needles and knitted pink pussy hats as an act of protest, you can’t fault the timing.")
Anni Albers ("long overshadowed by her husband Josef") gets a mention in the article, partly as a segue, via the Bauhaus, to the work of Harriet Wallace-Jones and Emma Sewell - they collaborate as Wallace Sewell, "painting with yarns" and designing fabrics, and have a show at the Fashion & Textile Museum, London, to 21 January. If you've travelled on the Bakerloo Line recently, you'll have sat on their moquette, showing the London Eye and Big Ben.
Wallace Sewell cushions and blankets
Wallace Sewell's designs are woven in Lancashire (via)
Dovecot Gallery, Edinburgh, is showing "Daughters of Penelope" till 20 January, celebrates the work of artists and makers working with the gallery. Dovecot Studios wove Paolozzi's The Whitworth Tapestry (1967; part of the Paolozzi exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery earlier this year) and Chris Ofili's The Caged Bird's Song (2017), recently shown at the National Gallery.
Paolozzi tapestry at the Whitechapel Gallery
The Whitworth Tapestry, by Eduardo Paolozzi (via)
"The quality of human time is embedded in tapestry" (via)
The Edinburgh show includes Finnish weaver Aino Kajaniemi "whose tapestries appear loose and even fragile through the use of yarns as fine as fishing line alongside bulkier linen textures. Many of these portray women and children in rural and domestic settings" - and also American artist Erin M Riley, who uses tapestry "to explore charged issues in the fast-moving online world." Both artists also featured in Tapestry: Here & Now at the Holborne Museum, Bath, which unfortunately has been and gone.

"Alice Kettle: Threads" is at the Winchester Discovery Centre till 14 January, and she is collaborating with groups of refugees, till autumn 2018, on the "Thread Bearing Witness" project, which will be exhibited at the Whitworth, Manchester, from Sept 2018 till February 2019.
"Sea" is 8 metres wide and was designed in response to harrowing
stories of migration across the Mediterranean (via)
So far the focus of the Art Quarterly article has been on weaving (is that the form of textile that most nearly approaches art?) ... but now we come to embroidery, in the form of May Morris, daughter of William, who put her in charge of Morris & Co embroidery department in 1885 when she was just 23. "She was recognised as a leader in the field of embroidery during her lifetime" - but her reputation has been neglected because "the fragility of the embroidery itself has played a role in keeping May's work out of permanent museum displays." See her work at the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow, till 28 January. (Interestingly, this exhibition needed crowdfunding to make it happen.)
Worked by May Morris around 1900, displayed in Edinburgh (via)
Watch out, also, for Tate Modern's exhibition of Anni Albers' work, 11 October 2018 to 27 January 2019. Her choice of textile as a medium "was forced somewhat by the Bauhaus school's bar on women studying in departments such as painting and glass." As she later observed, "when a work was on paper it was considered art, but when it was made with threads, it was considered craft." (Plus ca change?)
Anni Albers, Design for Rug, 1927, Harvard
Design for a rug, 1927, by Anni Albers (via)
Finally, are textiles coming closer to finding a place in the art world? As Hettie Judah says in the Art Quarterly article, "Within the art world there has been a marked resurgence of interest in the idea of an artist as a direct maker of objects. A central theme of this year's Venice Biennale [was] the relevance of textiles and hand-making in a digital age." 

But it seems to me that handmade=craft, in the eyes of the status-conscious art world, and that the "making" parts of art are less prestigious, eg carried out by artists' assistants and technicians. I think we shouldn't let ourselves be sucked into this bit of territorial defensiveness (or in-fighting), but just get on with doing what we need to do in terms of our "art making" - and being thoughtful and/or clear-sighted and/or open-minded about it all.


10 December 2017

Staying focussed

I've been dipping into a book called Organizing for Creative People (by Sheila Chandra) - yes, yet another of "those" helpful books; if only we could actually follow their good advice, instead of flitting about with our ideas and getting more disorganised and feeling bad about ourselves and our work habits, or lack of them. 

On p118 the section heading is "The importance of focus". She says:

Perhaps the biggest difference between what you do as an artist and other kinds of work is your level of focus. Long-term consistent focus for big projects. A complexity of thought that maintains the quality and depth in your work. A career-long perspective on how you want to grow as an artist, and maybe what you'd like to be able to tackle in ten years' time.
 
Focus is the key to what you do because you need your subconscious mind to feed you ideas. This means that, day to day, you have to practise not getting distracted. You need to train your mind. Everything in our world ... seems to be encouraging us to turn away from anything that isn't "exciting" and to slice our attention span into smaller and smaller pieces. If you're a creative person this just won't do because you need to be able to concentrate on creative problems for long periods in order to get results. It can be boring, but it has to be done.
 
and

If your problem is that you just can't focus on the number of ideas you have, then you must focus in the long-term sense. ... Pick the most important idea. I mean it. Pick one. ...choose the project most likely to get you need in your career right now. The more this project scares you, the more you'll resist this. ...some of you will rebel right here. It feels too scary to you to let go of other ideas, because you want to achieve "everything". In fact that is simply a way of not committing. Those artists you admire ... undertook each project as it came and evolved accordingly. 

and

If  concentration or procrastination is a problem for you, experiment with various working methods and times. 

Aha, working times, that most certainly rings a bell! The most useful nugget of advice that ever came my way was from Barbara Lee Smith: "Do the most important thing at your best time." I was musing on this ... wondering what that important thing might be ... while walking in the snow and slush today, and not long afterwards, happened to open that book to the "focus" section. Coincidence? ... or, the finger of fate?

To stretch the point (and segue to the photos): walking in slippery conditions requires a modicum of focus in itself ... and with a camera along you get focus automatically! I did find a few things to photograph during the day and especially the walk, starting with the surprise discovery -
Waking up to snow

Beautiful...

Very slushy on Parkland Walk
(Note the importance of a bit of red, as a focal point) -
Willow, Finsbury Park 

Oak tree, Finsbury Park

The inevitable ... and nicely positioned

09 December 2017

Shapes and outlines and juxtapositions

The latest crazy idea - meant to be a way of generating "monstrous" shapes - was to overlap shapes, and see if any of the shapes created had a monstrous look. This possibility was inspired by seeing multiple, overlapping shadows cast by closely-spaced street lamps, and seeing both how a walking person's own shadows overtook themselves, and how the shadows in standing groups of people (or objects) overlap. My subconscious worked away on the idea for a while, and I found myself buying a pack of "hand copy" carbon paper (there is also a "typewriter copy" version) and tracing some of the figures from the daily freebie "news"paper.

I made a rule only to use full bodies, and put the carbon paper in the same position under each page; another rule was "no peeking till it's finished" (ie, when I couldn't wait any longer and was prepared to stop, whatever the results). This is what appeared, from the theatrical and sports pages -
Quite apart from the happy accidents of placement - especially that football in the centre - it has contrast of scale and interesting positions of arms. It's giving me pointers on what to do consciously, if I decide to change the "rules" or start using tracing paper. Another possibility is to cut out the figures and use the pages or the figures as stencils, possibly with tissue paper (several layers?) underneath to use for "colour studies" and seeing what happens when the colours overlap.

The back of the carbon paper has the image in reverse, and looks palpably different -
First time lucky; I'll try it again throughout the week, a different newspaper each time.

08 December 2017

woodblock printing - artists and techniques

One of my personal aims in doing the woodblock course was to find about more about contemporary woodblock artists, and to this end I've been chain-watching youtube videos and also ricocheting from site to site, following a trail of interest.

It all started with David Bull's series on carving Hokusai's Great Wave (part 1 is here), bringing his carving knowledge to bear first of all on deciding which museum version of the print to use, and then taking us through the carving and printing in quite a few episodes -

He has made extensive videos on woodblock production (and employs a new generation of craftspeople in his atelier in Tokyo), all accessible via his website, http://mokuhankan.com

Of course if you're watching a youtube video, others "chosen for you" are helpfully displayed in the sidebar. First I watched some traditional ones, and then found Daryl Howard, an American woman who started by collecting prints while living in Japan and now has been making prints for some 40 years, adapting the process to her own production needs, as she explains in this video.
She now uses a computer to cut the blocks, but still uses her carving tools to clean up those blocks. For ink, she uses Winsor & Newton watercolour, rice paste, and glycerine - as did her teacher in Japan - and soaks her brushes for an hour before using them, which swells the wood and keeps the bristles from falling out.

Via the Rabley Drawing Centre I found Nana Shiomi, whose book I immediately ordered; it arrived this morning -
but I'm saving it for xmas.... Her demo is here.

At a local show, I was told that among the Crouch End Open Studios artists is Martin Davidson - his work is amazing -
(via)
Among the videos, several non-traditionally trained woodblock printers show how to do it. Emily Hoiginson, for example, shows how to get different intensities of colour without paste and with it. She uses the nori right out of the tub, and applies it after the colour is on the block.

In this demo Nana Shiomi uses white, and puts colour onto the brush to blend the white with the blue. She also has a nifty shelf that keeps the paper safely out of the way during registration -
She uses her hand to smooth the water onto the block - her work has large areas of colour, and as the block goes right to the edge, she uses an L-shape for registration. "Some artists print right onto the dry paper," she says at one point.

Another way of dealing with the tricky business of handling large sheets of paper is shown here by
Søren Bjælde, The block fits into an L-shaped piece of wood which is screwed onto the table, and the inked block placed into it (sometimes small nails are used to hold the free side in place). He puts batons either side and lays a sheet of wood onto them, which holds the paper while he carefully registers it. The registration marks are on the L-shaped wood.


Also, after carving and inking the key block, he prints it onto brown paper and offsets that print on the other blocks, so they will be reversed for cutting.

In this video he shows how to transfer a laser print onto a smallish piece of plywood - by rubbing through it with acetone to transfer the tone to the wood, and rubbing hard with a spoon. (Useful things, spoons.)
It also shows him using a magnifying light while cutting, and using the computer to help choose the background. The paper, once registered, is held in place with clips at the edge of the table - it can safely be lifted to check whether more rubbing is needed.

My investigations continue ....