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By: Alinah Azadeh
The process of making work as part of the ‘The Shape of Things’ programme, including The Gifts, a textile installation for Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, and new work for a group show at Flow Gallery, London.
# 40 [12 August 2010]
I'm breathing new life into this blog as I have been making a body of new work for the shape of things group show at the Flow Gallery in September (Sept 10th - Nov 6th) and I realise that a lot has come out of making The Gifts that is having an impact. These smaller works, that are helping me define my visual language of textile sculpture-come-poetic object , are a real joy to work on and I am so relieved at the headspace they give me and the opportunity to work very intuitively over a number of hours in a kind of dialogue with objects I find. The starting point is normally a poem that suggests wrapping an object or an object that calls to mind a poem. The poems are always either from Rumi or Hafiz, so far..and I use extracts and bind them around on bias binding, like a three dimensional ode.
I'm working/blogging in parallel on an installation commission for The National Portrait Gallery , part of which will be based on The Gifts (1-99). I've developed it into a three part work to correspond to the three groups being portrayed, and using objects not just from the past but from the present and future. I am loving the balance between work on a large scale, public work which has involved intense encounters with others -and this slower, more intimate encounter with myself through object, text and material. I'm posting some images here to show what I am creating, some of which will be part of the Flow show.
It's been a long time since i made work for sale in this way and the pricing is something i have to feel my way into..I am curious to see if it has commercial appeal but mainly i am revelling in making the work and how grounding it feels to do it and how it brings up other ideas for a next piece, like following a trail further and further into a forest of treasures..
I also have some interest in The Gifts being shown again next year, which, if it becomes a concrete possibility, i will write about next month. This is on my big wish list, along with it being purchased into a public /private collection so that it is cared for, and I believe it can happen. When it does, I will have crossed a bridge and a whole new vista will emerge of what's possible with this work , in terms of its legacy and wider impact beyond the timeframe of engagement and initial display.
# 39 [27 April 2010]
Taking down 'The Gifts' the other week was disoncertingly swift and easy (granted there were six of us..Benoit thankfully returned and the apprentices were on board, very focused).
After the long haul of making the work and the labour intensive process of hanging it all, it felt like, a few snips and it's all over. Which is probably healthy, but there was an air of melancholy leading up to it, mainly in Julia and me, the principle midwives of this particular creation..
When work disappears like that, when it's initial life is over, it really does feel like it was a dream..
It's all in boxes in my studio now and i am trying to rest for a while, focus on slower time at home, recharging until the next project begins. I still have photos to edit for my website update, film footage to look at and lots of information to add into the installation notes that accompany the work for the next time it goes up, whenever that may be. I am also considering what kind of work i want to make for the Flow Gallery show - smaller wrapped pieces, i have some ideas and Yvonna who runs the gallery came to the show so we are in dialogue. I am sure I had more to say than this and am going to write up an evaluation of some kind on how it all went..
I have another project starting next month which will most probably breed another blog. I have found this such a crucial space both for documenting the process of the work and getting focused on what's at the centre of what i am doing and also what needs to follow.
I had one last echo of my mother after the show came down. I have made friends with Shafan, the Iranian staff member who has been working in the gallery a lot during the show (often by request). She and her husband are the only Iranians in Bristol from the same part of Iran as my mother (they speak the Turkish dialect she used to speak). She invited me to have dinner and stay at her house on Monday. i was exhausted but it was such a tender invitation and so well timed. As i ate her delicious food and listened to farsi on the tv and talked with her, I sensed my mother vicariously taking delight in this creative episode of my life which brought me so much and which will take quite a long time to unravel..
# 38 [10 April 2010]
I had a rather bad accident the other day and burned the inside length of my left arm. I have been on painkillers and in need of rest so been looking for quiet inspiration and also reflecting on this project as it approaches its final week...
I was thinking of Janine Antoni, an American artist who I met in 2006 - myself and 11 other artists did a one week performance lab with her and Melissa Martin called Lore + Other Convergences at LADA/INIVA in London.
It was an intense learning experience which brought up a lot around collaboration, object-related perfomance and process as product.. I remember Janine was very encouraging of the idea of The Gifts, which I had already shown the seed of with a piece I did for Limbo Arts in 2004 as part of a group show called ‘Abandon’ and it was her that pointed me to the 'Power and Taboo' show at the British Museum at that time, where i discovered the wrapping rituals of the Pacific Islands divinity culture that helped develop my thinking around this project.
Discovering Antoni's work at that time was quite a revelation to me (I was new to the live arts scene and had not heard of her, much to the other artist's surprise...) as there were many common points in what she had been doing with great renown and success) and the path i was only beginning. she also seemed to have a lot of integrity around her approach to the commercial side of the artworld and some solid ideas about how to navigate it while retaining her strength and freedom to make the work that interested her.
I found this interview with her again called ‘Framing Sculpture’ which I really like and which I wanted to share here, especially ideas around relationship to the object and the role of the viewer…
If you don't know her work she is really worth a look and has a lot of gently thought provoking things to say. And it always feels good to acknowledge one's influences and inspirations...
Aside from this, as if in response to my earlier thoughts around the targeted exposure of our work to curators, Shape and the museum have organized a Curator’s Day on Tuesday. I am using it to hone down how i present the essentials of my practice (since the presentation will be brief) and also to prepare thoughts for myself around where my practice might go next as I feel a crossroads approaching – more on this later...
# 37 [28 March 2010]
It’s funny how old things can feel once they are done. The Gifts is still on for another three weeks, is still being seen anew by thousands of people every week, and yet for me, four hours away, it feels like a runaway member of my family – they’re coming home soon, what do I do with them?
Who knows whether my dream of finally getting my work collected and properly looked after will come to pass, that’s out of my control, but what I am realising is that once the gig’s over, if you don’t have someone representing your interests for you, it’s still a one woman show most of the time.
I am incredibly fortunate that I already have other projects on the horizon, but this is a new situation to deal with - making works that are no longer very temporary (textile sculptures are fragile but reasonably straightforward to conserve and re-hang) and that I don’t really want to hold onto, mainly because this was a project about releasing old energies embodied in objects. The feng shui of holding onto them doesn’t really add up.
So, my main desire is that the project gets properly disseminated to those who might have a hand in extending the installation’s life nationally and internationally. I am lucky that the shape of things have this on their agenda to some degree – our show at the Flow gallery in September will help, having the catalogue done is brilliant and the circulation of the project to their own networks will certainly help - not to mention the huge audiences that have seen the work at the museum. But, as an individual artist, I still feel that there is a big leap to be made into the world of galleries and collectors who might provide another income stream as well as another way of disseminating my work to places I do not yet have access to. And reasons to be able to spend more time in my studio making smaller work and getting quiet headspace.
It’s a question of guaranteeing longevity – if the work doesn’t get seen again in different context then its just a photo in a catalogue, an image in the head. Maybe I am just impatient and/or spoilt, I am always looking one step ahead to what has not yet happened, willing it to be so and not always allowing adequate time to appreciate what I have achieved. I also am already missing the close working relationship with Julia, our curator at Bristol Museum ,which was very enriching and supportive –I want one of her all the time!.
Re the next step with this particular project, I do keep thinking about what Rosa said just a few weeks after we had gotten the show up, ‘That was that, what now?’
# 36 [11 March 2010]
Objects have a voice. Stories create forms. Rather than laying these objects to rest, they seem to have come more alive, or maybe it's what being in the public eye has done to them...
After feeling totally emptied out from getting this show up, I have been struggling to get back into the rhythm of work, mainly because of emotional exhaustion . This week i did manage to get into my studio and began a new piece, a ladder which i wrapped in blue silk. i am preparing the binding and also musing on the texts to use. i have learnt, from The Gifts, that objects have a particular story to communicate and that as an artist its my job to iisten and transmit. It feels like it may take a while with this one but it was good to start..something.
i enjoyed giving the gallery talks last weekend, it was a full house with some juicy questions and emotional responses to the installation. It reminded me why i make my work using textile so much now- to create relationships that would otherwise not be available to me, on a mass scale. A diversity of contact and response that fills me up...for a sweet while. Then i have to crawl through the darkness again until the next piece becomes clear...
It's only now, talking about the making of the work in retrospect that i realise what a risk it was, that reliance on material from the public - several people commented on the trust that had been created in order to surrender some of the most precious and emotionally charged items...I am still moved by the transaction that took place and hope that I returned the gift fully enough....
Attached is an image i have used for the postcards which will be arriving next week...
Sogand and i were filming last week at the museum, it's such a complex piece to film unless you have steadycams etc,so we took short tableaux shots instead, we found a language to work with but it took a couple of hours to define and we both had fluey colds. At least we have stuff to work with now, though i have to find the budget for a cut. Video documentation hasn't been part of the overall budget and although i was once a filmmaker i was too inside the work to really do much on that front. Sogand suggested i use what we did to work up a voiceover that is reflecting on the experience of making the work retrospectively, which feels like the freshest way to come at it.
I have never had a show that lasted this long, and want to make the most of creating new connections with curators, collectors or others who may not know about my work but might be interested. This is when an agent would be very helpful, maybe..? I am not sure if this is part of the shape of things' remit or mine really, must check. Think that's the next step in terms of what there is to do with The Gifts while it's in the air. I can't complain that it hasn't received enough overall attention though as visitor numbers were almost 20, 000 in four weeks. But we could do with a proper review of the show. There are so many elements to this soup called Exhibiting in a Museum, I have to learn to take it step by step ....breath by breath.
# 35 [24 February 2010]
I went up to Bristol briefly last week to give some radio interviews, it was actually very good to reconnect with the work but understand that it is separate from me now and is having a life of it's own and becoming something else in its public life. (I can't seem to escape the metaphor of the mothe , too powerful..).
I am still struggling with the transition from goal-oriented (i.e, shows going up by a certain date and being the central focus of my waking life) and process-oriented living (ie, enjoying that fact that the work is done and out there, rather then fixated on the next thing to achieve in order to feel valued) .
Am trying to unravel thoughts and issues that have arisen from getting The Gifts made and where it leads me next , got a day in london tomorow to visit my other shows at Southbank Centre, visit the Tate modern, see Willows opening at The Hub and get some headspace to articulate them.....will unfold them here soon.
# 34 [13 February 2010]
I'm decompressing slowly from my shows...and having withdrawal symptoms. sometimes i think i am addicted to my work and the deep sense of purpose it gives me. have been having strange dreams about The Gifts this week, with it sited in a church and me wandering around half undressed looking for a therapist..hm. not sure if its wise to write this, but it's all part of the after-effect of spending a year developing a highly emotionally charged artwork and having it in seen by large numbers of the public..
I got a facebook message from Shafan, who is one of the Museum's front of house staff and has been working in the gallery. She also happens to be iranian and from Tabriz, very close to the village where my mother was born, so i once again feel a strange but comforting sense of presence there, from here. It sounds like a lot of people are visiting the show and the response is powerful and positive.. I am missing wrapping things up, and i have quite a few pieces in mind that i want to make, ranging from the tiny to room-size..I will be returning to the studio next week but meanwhile it is taking some letting go to adjust to the rhythm of life back home..
Anyway, seeking inspiration, i came across this Rumi poem that i had considered using in the catalogue but never did, it seems like a good point to offer it up;
from ' Put this Design in your Carpet'
“..There is an unseen presence we honor
that gives the gifts.
You’re water, We’re the millstone.
You’re wind. We’re dust blown up into shapes.
You’re spirit. We’re the opening and closing
Of our hands. You’re the clarity.
We’re this language that tries to say it.
You’re joy. We’re all the different kinds of laughing..'
(The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks , with Reynold Nicholson, A.J Arberry, John Moyne. Expanded Edtion, Harper One 2004.)
# 33 [9 February 2010]
So i was somewhat insanely busy between my last post and now, having to leave the Musem before the piece was finished, in order to help with the install of the Bibliomancer's Dream and Dream On at Southbank Centre. And then having to leave that to be finished in order to be present at the opening of the shape of things at the museum on friday night.
Now i am back on lewes and with a little space and some rest, i am happy to say i feel very satisfied and excited about both works, The opening of Shape.. and the unveiling of mine and Rosa's work, with a good crowd, tasty canapes and delicious vodka cocktails followed by cosy and fun after -party was fun and rather unreal. But the next day, after i had done my public talk and the DVD of our interviews had crashed so that no-one could recognise me, i got the real deal.. walking around, sitting and slowly taking in what we have created in Bristol with these installations and how we have managed to execute it with precision and love, then hearing , seeing and feeling the impact of it on the public, was a powerful and fulfilling two hours.
It's a landmark show for me and i feel bereft i cant just walk down the road to visit it (i am 3.5 hours away on a train). But it runs till april 18th and i have three planned trips there for talks etc.
Here's an article from yeserdays local news, i like the title!
i am still in deccompression and adjusting to family life and different challenges like getting my children to school/ nursery on time - which feels as tricky as deliivering large scale installations to schedule sometimes....
There's more to say, i will continue later.
# 32 [30 January 2010]
My fingers have barely touched the ground …hanging 999 objects has turned out to be a mammoth task, shared with up to 5 other people at any one time, with so many variables it is like trying to write a computer programme on the fly with thread…by Thursday afternoon, when I had to leave for two days (and felt like I was abandoning a child, untill I saw my own children and everything melted away), just over 50% of the main piece has been hung, and that was ten days into the installing (with five to go, but only three when i am there). I left the process I good hands, it really is a strong team and I enjoy seeing various members of staff join in hands on and weave their energies into these gifts…. another level of giving that will be invisible to anyone but ourselves…
What has been hung does look magical, and I am deliberately not showing too much in the photos here, as I feel the Friday preview will be a genuine unveiling process. At the moment there is still an enormous scaffold making its way through the work, like a giant spider weaving a web, so its hard to get what the overall effect will be, but I am loving the way the whole things moves when you slightly move the grid as you tie the threads of the objects to the top, like a dance, a wave, a meditation. And seeing Rosa’s ‘Still Living’ piece emerging in the background has been quietly thrilling, its delicacy and the space that she has been creating which I think will work really well alongside the gifts like a playful conversation….
I spent yesterday with my children, taking them to a wedding of my Iranian cousin in London. We took the train and tubes to get there, which I had never done on my own with both of them, and felt like far more of a challenge than this project for some reason…. a different mode I guess, but it was a sweet adventure, and my heart tugged when I realised how much Moses has learnt in the time I have been away (i.e. he now counts to 15…10 more than ten days ago…). But I am also looking forward to their reaction when they and Leo see the work…
I came back to Bristol today, intending on reaching the museum mid-afternoon to do a bit of work to prepare for hanging my Gifts (1-99) spiral, but it took me 6 hours, as there was a suicide on the line and no trains running from Paddington. I have been staying with Julia the curator and her partner Paul most of the time, which has been a real pleasure, but tonight I am spending a rare night on my own at my friend’s flat and actually revelling in the quiet and space. Its like being on retreat and something I need before what is going to be one of the most intense weeks of my career – installing and opening of The Gifts here in Bristol and taking two days out to join the installing of The Bibliomancer’s Dream and Dream On installations at Southbank Centre in between…sometimes I get to the point of overwhelm then remember that this is what I have always dreamed of being able to do, and I get reconnected to a more joyful sense of purpose. Like being on a train, I must remember to take in the view, it’s rushing by so fast…
# 31 [24 January 2010]
Week 1 – Part 2
We have a great team of volunteers and tuned into the work already - I knew this immediately because when I was told about the non-appearance of the main frame and the main technician, Benoit, Lyn and Genevieve saw my disappointment and started to compensate with positive ideas about what we could do with our time before the frame arrives as well as about the experiments needed to establish hanging issues. Three of the team are students at UWE on the Drawing and Applied Arts course and have had experience of hanging their work using fishing wire, which is a bonus! Time was spent till Wednesday going through all the gifts and transferring the label numbers onto them with gold pen, as well as establishing what the production line process for getting the objects up as quickly as possible would be.
Rosie, one of the two museum apprentices (the other is Casey) who have been assigned to helping me, has been helping Becky the designer finalise the proofing of the postcards and floor texts for The Gifts (1-99) so I have had to some proofing as well as final looks at the catalogue which looks beautiful and went to print on Thursday. Simon, the designer who is project managing, has started work on transferring the The Gifts (1-99) grid I supplied to the mirrored circular disc that they will drill holes in and hang objects from.
I initially thought that with 2 pairs of people we could get it all hung in 5 days. I have revised this since we spent all of Thursday and Friday hanging one row and a half. However, these are the two crucial outside rows, which determine the line of the whole piece - which I had plotted out on a graph, and we are taking the figures from that- so they were bound to be more time consuming. We have learnt a lot from the way we worked over this week and from tomorrow things will speed up and I know more surely that it will flow. The line looks good and the height works I need to focus on what is hanging already rather than what is on the ground.
I have been staying with Julia, the curator who has been a brilliant support as always, getting hands on as well as standing back to take on board where we are at. Tomorrow Rosa arrives with to start installing her work and I am curious to see how our two worlds meet and reflect, I am excited to see her work in the flesh and to see this new, temporary universe unfold …transforming the space and us.
Alinah Azadeh is a British-Iranian artist with a background in painting, video and new media. She works across artforms, using live and digital processes relying on intimate human interaction to create work that can be a device for mass participation. Textiles and live, participative work are becoming central to her practice.Her recent impetus to create has been inspired by experiences of cultural displacement, birth and bereavement.