Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
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By: Elena Thomas
Threads between words, music and a bundle of old clothes.
# 241 [12 May 2013]
This feels brave.
I can post photos of textiles up here and all is well, I am a confident stitcher and textile mangler… easy peasy!
But… this is very different. I have been playing with photos of textiles and making textile things that don’t require stitching, photographing them with a not very good compact digital camera, I’m not a good photographer, mostly because I can’t seem to use the camera properly either with or without my glasses! Then I mess about in photoshop and make digital collages.
So here’s why I’m doing this… I posted a couple of images onto my facebook artist’s page and suddenly my stats went whoosh… lots more people were looking at these images than anything else I’d posted. I’d like to know why. I would quite like to know what you think. I am not sure where these ideas will go, whether they are a serious departure, or merely a tangent because I can’t sew.
And that’s the other thing...
I’m not sure whether this current state has made me think differently about the stitch(es) too. After an enforced absence, the stitch has gained disproportionate importance. Now, if I am going to use a stitch, it is going to be because it is the only thing that works. I seem to have elevated the stitch to something far too precious. It might paralyse me.
In my head, these images happen far too quickly to be of worth. Intellectually, I know that to be rubbish, that the time it takes to create an image isn’t the issue. But emotionally, it niggles at me because I am used to having ideas that take weeks to come to fruition. Time + Effort = Worth. This equation only seems to apply to me and my work. I am quite happy with other people producing work quickly. It just applies to me. The methods I have used aren’t particularly sophisticated. Anyone who knows even a little bit about photoshop will see how they have been constructed. This is odd too. I am used to people going “Wow, you hand stitched this? Oooh!”. I don’t think anyone will be impressed with my technical skills here.
In a few weeks time I might read this blog post and look upon it as some daft rambling, or I may look upon it as a turning point. Either way, it is probably a good idea to document it.
Posting the images makes me feel nervous. You can laugh at them if you like, but tell me what you think anyway. I think it’ll be useful.
I think what is more likely to happen, is that I will, eventually, see new ways to use the stitch… the signs are already there. So maybe, this injury has got me out of a rut I never knew I was in!
# 240 [8 May 2013]
I'm not sure these days where to post.... Most of my thinking and making is going towards the work with Bo so I feel I should be posting on “pix”. But more personal ramblings should probably go here. When I started out with the joint project, the delineation between that work and my own was clear. There was a difference between that and "my own".
As time has gone on, as I've worked and read and talked and worked some more, it's all become more blurred. Hence confusion about where to post now. It's all now "my own" work.
But... This blog is called Threads, and its intention was to draw all the threads of my work together after all.
It's the talk about touch that has drawn everything closer. I've been thinking about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and that unfathomable thing that makes it greater... And been thinking about the unfathomable sense of touch.... What is happening between my skin and my brain... I feel a gap... Slippage...
This is where the connections are. I look at my last body of work, all those children's clothes with hand marks... Touches.
How we use the word touched to mean things other than my hand upon yours, me touching you… it’s more than the physical.
It means emotionally affected.... Or emotionally unstable even...
The stitches that I'm currently unable to use, ironic, coincidental, they have fallen down a gap, have slipped.
They have also become imperceptible, unfathomable, invisible. But they are still in my head. When they come back, which I hope will be soon, I will have a stronger sense of how they fit and what they are for. How I can take the parts and hold them together. Stitches and pixels and parts, strewn around the floor, waiting to be pulled into the whole, so I can find the bit that makes them greater.
I can use them where they touch, to find the part that touches.
My work has always been about touch, even when I didn't know it. I feel my way through fabric and garments, touching things in my cupboards and on rails, waiting for the spark, an emotional connection initiated by touch. My work touches these things, becomes part of them, all the way through. I like the word interference, but it does seem to have negative connotations that others don't like.
I think I have to find away to encourage people to touch what I have made...
# 239 [2 May 2013]
Just a short update here… still a little incapacitated, but getting better thank goodness… albeit slowly! Some making happening… nothing too strenuous, a bit of experimentation with fabric stiffening, but it makes me feel better! Most of my writing has been going on in “pix” instead of here… but I’ll be back!
# 238 [26 April 2013]
My lovely sister-in-law phoned me up, because she had read my previous post and was concerned that I sounded so miserable. I re-read it, and yes, I did didn’t I? Lots and lots of people have expressed concern, and I would like to thank you all, it is lovely of you to be bothered to do so!
I am still physically rather restricted, but have gathered myself together a little, and am now coping with it all in a more dignified, mature fashion. I have stopped having tantrums just because I have to eat my cereal with my left hand.
I have begun to think around the problem too, of making and thinking, and in the long term this enforced period of not-making might actually be good for my brain. I am taking short cuts, and doing small experiments with small materials that don’t require the strength and dexterity of both hands.
I find, thankfully, that my ability to argue with Bo has been unhindered by my injury. Not sure he’s so thankful. So, I am being kept going by the folks around me, and trying to remember to be thankful for small mercies. This is a temporary condition that requires minimal alteration to my lifestyle to accommodate it.
Feel free to remind me to get a grip if I start moaning again.
# 237 [24 April 2013]
I haven’t done anything.
I have just sat here moaning.
I haven’t read anything.
I haven’t thought anything.
I am a local expert in moping about and whinging.
I still cannot hold a pen for any length of time, and only the sort that doesn’t require any pressure to write or draw.
I still can’t drive.
It appears my ability to think is inextricably connected to my ability to make. I had thought that yes, a lot of my thinking gets done while I make, but it hadn’t occurred to me that my thinking relied totally upon my being able to make.
I am seeing small improvements, I am now able to move my thumb, I have achieved opposability again. But can’t grip or hold any weight. So still bloody useless. Still off work (a silver lining here, Ofsted have arrived in school while I am off, but I feel guilty I cannot be there supporting my colleagues)
So if I’m not making anything or thinking anything, and I’m being a miserable self-pitying cow, there’s not going to be much to blog about is there?
I am being very irritable with all I live with, and I think my husband thinks I have become mentally unstable. Let’s pray for rapid recovery huh?
# 236 [19 April 2013]
Well that’s buggered up my plans.
The theory is I have a cracked scaphoid bone at the base of my thumb. It hurts like hell. I’m not in plaster or anything, but can’t sew, draw, write with a pen, use a fork. Certainly can’t drive. So pretty much most of my favourite means of expression and entertainment removed. Thank goodness for social media, laptops and iTunes.
Bo sent me an image he’d done from a drawing I’d done on an app on my iPhone… yes, still stealing each other’s work. (I’ll post it if he says I can, waiting for a response...) As quite often happens, we seem to have ideas that link, even though coming at them from completely different directions. Having explored the obvious, and the close at hand, working through ideas with bits of muslin, laying foundations as it were, learning the grammar and the vocabulary, I am now in a position to mess it up, push a few boundaries, get bigger, play a little more.
This body of work has taught me such a lot about myself and my working practice. I’m actually more methodical than I thought I was. I have worked through things in a reasonably logical manner. Not taken short cuts, but dealt with ideas as they present themselves either in my sketch book or by making. I’m not sure if this is out of some sort of sense of responsibility to Bo, to make sure I’m doing it “properly”.
It does seem a little jerky though… I head off down a pathway full of enthusiasm, then grind to a halt and need a bit of a prod to set off again. The prod at the moment comes from Bo. Why can’t I do it myself? I know I’ve said it before, but without the crit, I just can’t seem to do it. Even if I disagree totally with what someone has said to me, I need that other voice to enable me to move forward. Is there some way I can learn how to do this for myself?
Anyway, that’s the intellectual exercise that perhaps I can think about while the physical has let me down…
I am desperate to pull apart huge swathes of muslin… starch it, mould it and stiffen it into three dimensional shapes… stitch into it… but that is currently impossible. What I’m scared of is the possibility that the enthusiasm to do it will have worn off by the time I’m physically able to do it.
Got a pile of birthday cds to entertain myself though…
I Am Kloot’s new one, “Let it all In”
Jesca Hoop “The House That Jack Built”
And a couple of old ones that I have on vinyl up in the loft, that I miss listening to:
Tom Waits “Heartattack and Vine”
World Party “Bang”
Right, I’m off for a sulk.
# 235 [13 April 2013]
Getting at the truth.
In reading Kate Murdoch’s blog I started to think again about the purpose of the blog. This blog. Initially it was a way for me to talk about my work, to myself, to articulate what it was about, to help me clarify my thoughts. It still is that. But also, like Kate, I have build around this blog a group of people I have never met, who I regard as friends (actually, I have met a couple, and yes, they are proper friends now). The blog is my shared studio, my group crit. The people I am aware of as I write, are my fellow bloggers I suppose, but I am increasingly aware of other people reading. I meet people who ask how my work is going, whether I have resolved certain issues, or if I am feeling well now… I am totally gobsmacked when they say they follow my blog. I am even astonished that my husband bothers to read it. He rarely comments, but he did say yesterday he had noticed that I had stopped even pretending that “my studio” was also the dining room… ooops.
I need to be kept on the straight and narrow. I need to be focused on why I do the work, what I’m trying to get at. I can get carried away with the items I find, the stitching, and lose sight of what I’m trying to say. Having the blog (no, blogs, plural) keeps my critical focus. If I lose my way, I put the questions out there. Sometimes I get comments back on here, on facebook or twitter, or face to face.
Stitch by stitch, piece by piece, I can follow my path, can look back on what I have said, and others have said, and hopefully the path forward becomes clearer - the truth is out there.
So, having initially thought, in June 2011, that the value in this blog would be just as a different way to talk to myself, it has far exceeded expectations.
It is a crucial tool in getting at the truth, as are all the other interactions with my friends, fellow artists, writers, musicians, photographers, collaborators…
If I slip up occasionally and reveal a little too much about myself, forgetting who might be reading, it is a price worth paying I think. The exchange has to be honest, or it is worthless.
# 234 [9 April 2013]
I just love junk shops, especially the ones that have textiles and clothing. That might seem obvious given the sort of work I do. The other day I found a new one in Cambridge. I had my son with me… otherwise I probably would have spent at least another two hours in there. Ferreting around in other people’s discarded clothing that has been held in suspended animation for decades probably. What I do is look at everything, literally everything, waiting for it to speak to me. I found one thing… it is pinned up on the wall in my studio now, and my husband says it’s freaky.
It’s a really old bra… all cotton, reinforced with circles of stitching around each cup, but the disturbing thing is that each cup has been stuffed with foam. Totally stuffed. At the moment I am unsure whether I want to use the bra with or without this. I can see me stitching text around the concentric circles, but not sure what. Again, the significance of stitch is blurring the line between my collaborative/ joint work with Bo, and my own work. The stitches on this garment are crucial to its form and function. Bo accused me of “overt interference” as if it was a bad thing! But actually, the accusation is a useful one, that has caused me to think about why I do it…
(he often manages this, goading me into some sort of coherence)
I could go into any of these junk shops, charity shops and so on, grab a few items, any items, then hang them on a wall, or on a mannequin of some sort. The nature of the item means that they would have resonance with people… some people. They would say “My Dad had a jacket like that” or some such comment. And that would be it.
The point is I don’t just grab the first items on the rack. I select, carefully, I listen, fondle the fabric. I note an emotional response to what I handle.
I could then do the same with these items, just hang them up for people to see. The difference here is that I know what they mean to me, but my viewers have the same reaction as they did before “My Mum had a blouse like that”. All I did, for the same reaction, was waste my time looking more carefully.
By overtly interfering, I hopefully hold a gaze for a little longer, present perhaps a more complex item that requires thought, a question… even if it is “That is a perfectly good tweed jacket, why would you wreck it by cutting holes in it?”
My problem, and the point I am always searching for, is the point of ambiguity. Interference, but interference that says as little as possible, to enable those viewing to see as much as possible.
The significance of the single stitch is to be considered… it really is possible to go one stitch too far, one stitch can throw ambiguity through the window… make everything blatant. The viewer then says “oh yes” and walks on… it hasn’t spoken to him at all, and in fact, has spoken less than if I had just left well alone.
# 233 [5 April 2013]
We went to see the Quentin Blake exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge today. Got there really early (free, but timed ticket entry) before it was too full. It is a small exhibition but full of wonder, for me and my son. He grew up with us reading Roald Dahl and laughing at Blake’s characterful drawings. Seeing the real thing is always better isn’t it? What amazed us was we could almost hear the scritchy-scratchiness of his pens. The drawings were full of gesture and movement and conversation. We amused ourselves (is this a good point to tell you my son is 27, not 7?) by inventing the conversations… between the beaky tour guide and tourists; the women and birds; the women and babies; the birds and dogs. Conversation was everywhere, except, curiously, the drawing of the only two “real” people? Gesture and movement caused us to emulate - I especially loved “Big healthy girls” the large colourful woman with lots of uncontrollable hair struck a chord, and we tried to strike her pose - she was wonderful and I want her on my wall. By the time we came away, the room was filling, with adults and children, all of whom were laughing and doing the same poses and actions we had done.
A really unserious look at art. Made us giggle, put smiles on our faces, brought the sun out. Well done Mr Blake, you clever man!
# 232 [2 April 2013]
Who am I trying to kid?
I knew it wouldn’t last long!
Elena Thomas only has enough words for one blog? No chance.
I have decided I need some decent photos of my work for my website, I feel my quick snaps are not hitting the right note any more - onwards and upwards and all that!
I met a lovely photographer today. You know the sort of person you arrange a short meeting with about one thing, then end up talking about life, the universe and everything?
My friend Dan Whitehouse recommended his friend Carsten Dieterich (link below), so I went armed with a load of work scrumpled into a big ikea blue carrier bag. We chatted, played, looked at examples, decided we liked similar things, didn’t like similar things (one thing too busy, another too bright, simple is best...)
We found we had a lot in common in terms of how we view our work, earning money, variety, and the staving off of boredom through creativity, insomnia and the useful quiet hours between 11pm and 2am.
I am finding these are common threads lately, in the people whose work I admire, be they musician, artist, photographer.
Problem is, when you discover there are other people up at that hour, you start a conversation online and end up going to bed even later…
Carsten’s website is: http://www.focused-photography.com/
He’s a lovely man, and he does some lovely work, in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
Then, I get back home to discover Ruth Geldard has been delving into my ranty archives and has been talking about the Artists’ Lie…(post 224) Carsten and I touched on this a little too, about how what you do to bring in the money doesn’t have to be connected to the thing you love to do, but how variety helps you to keep all these things going, one income stream supporting another, which supports the thing that sometimes doesn’t create much income at all. Doing all of it, enables all of it. Balance.
Ruth’s blog is: http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/single/3134411
(I wonder if Ruth stays up late too?)
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