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By: Rebecca Strain

It has seveal meanings some of which being:
a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network
in Geology; a major range of strata that corresponds to a period in time
in Astronomy; a group of celestial objects connected by their mutual attractive forces


click to expand/collapse 

'Unnamed (System)'. Photo: Simon Lee Dicker. Courtesy: OSR Projects.

'Unnamed (System)'. Photo: Simon Lee Dicker. Courtesy: OSR Projects.

# 149 [27 January 2012]

I was speaking to a visitor called Jerry or maybe Gerry on Thursday.  He was saying about why he couldn't make the launch party.  It was because he had gone to see his 11 year old grand-daughter dancing at the Royal Ballet.

Sarah was eleven the youngest there..It came up about stories in the news or maybe heard on the radio that the principal dancer at the Royal Ballet had resigned this week.

We pondered this for a while, wondered how it could have come about.  Gerry said he might be off to become a tattoo artist.  Simon suggested that maybe he'd had enough of the pressure and just wanted a regular life.  I wondered what was happening in New York.  I heard on the news a while ago about strikes.


Gerry was here to see the exhibition and asked me where all the paintings were.  There was one painting in the room.  It took up the entire wall.  I hadn't painted anything.  I suppose that is because I am a sculptor.  I know this.  But as Simon pointed out Picasso sculpted and painted and I remember seeing a body of work which was entirely composed of faces on ceramic bowls and vessels. 

Maybe I am not as diverse as Picasso.  I have made prints.  I did a residency at Leeds College of Art and Design a few years ago where I spent 6 months in the print studio.  I eventually got the hang of it.  In the end I quite enjoyed it.  But no painting for me as yet.  Do I event have paint anymore?  I definitely have a handful of brushes.  I think when I lost that really nice watercolour set after Limavady I was really upset and never really got over it.

Anyway, so Gerry and the paintings.  In a winding tackful way I said I was kinda over the modernist ideal and that I was in no position to present him with a masterpiece in oil or marble and that the best I could do with the resources I had was provide a platform for dialogue. Maybe something would come out of it, maybe not but that is wasn't up to me to provide a finite. 

I don't know how this went down.  I needed a break anyway because we just had created 10 Mutoscope animations in collaboration with a group of primary school kids.  Well we kinda pointed them in a direction and they just ran away with it.  They'd made up some crazy funny stories about Borris the mouse who stole things like pencils and bits of plastic for fun.  He slept in a bed shaped like a chariot which he accessed through a hole in the floor.  There was also Lost Larry, and a guy who was really tall and used this to see in peoples gardens, a flesh eating monster and a space ship that also worked in water.

The challenge for me when working with young people is not to oversimplify things.  To tell it how it is but use simple words.  Sometimes when trying to find the right word the idea can get a little lost so when I was taking about 'Unnamed (System)" which was inspired by the celebrating weighing I kinda lost the plot a bit and so I just left it hanging in the air.  The kids were cool about this but I felt that I could have done better with that one.

Never mind life goes on.  It's not a static object, it is just evidence of a conversation which when you try to remember it comes out differently.  It's probably better this way.

BTW Jonathan who had just come back from NYC had the lowdown on the scene there.  Although 6 protesters had been arrested. It seems it was full of life in the museums and commercial galleries.


Rebecca Strain, 'This Blinking Think', Zoetrope, Jan 2012. Photo: Chantelle Hencoq. Courtesy: OSR Projects. created from a story from a story about an optical illusion once seen at this venue

Rebecca Strain, 'This Blinking Think', Zoetrope, Jan 2012. Photo: Chantelle Hencoq. Courtesy: OSR Projects. created from a story from a story about an optical illusion once seen at this venue

Rebecca Strain, 'at Polymer'. attempting to make Cyanotypes without sunshine with students from the Baltic School of Film and Media

Rebecca Strain, 'at Polymer'. attempting to make Cyanotypes without sunshine with students from the Baltic School of Film and Media

Rebecca Strain, 'The Fine Art of Rejection', Sept 2009. Origami Boats made from rejection letters given to me by the public

Rebecca Strain, 'The Fine Art of Rejection', Sept 2009. Origami Boats made from rejection letters given to me by the public

Rebecca Strain, 'Documentation of Invitation to Shred', Dec 2011. Photo: still from video.

Rebecca Strain, 'Documentation of Invitation to Shred', Dec 2011. Photo: still from video.

# 148 [24 January 2012]

The show is up at the Old School Room, Phase Two has been handed in and things are underway with the urban sculpture garden in Branksome.


It's pre- Phase Three, the final stage of my masters studies.  Last phase I didn't do myself justice.  The shock of having my work assessed by a university really threw me.  Well that along with almost being evicted because the landlady didn't pay her mortgage.

I was struck with inertia for most of the time.  I lost track of making and as to writing I just couldn't put anything together.  Knowing that all of this mattered; this was my first qualification in Fine Art and being aware I was letting it slip out of my hands just made it all worse and perpetuated the spiral of negativity.

I kind of pulled it together by going back to Polymer.  I feel at home there, accepted and I work hard when I am there.  This time I set myself an unachievable goal.  To make a mutoscope in less that three weeks. Of course I did not complete it and the object that I created seemed to be proof to myself that I was incapable of achieving anything.

At the time I was reading a book published by the Whitechapel Gallery in their series on documents of contemporary art.  This one was titled Failure.  During making I listened to recordings of myself taking to school children about the idea of failure and all the while I was producing something that I knew was destined to fail, in that it would not be a functioning mutoscope.

Perhaps there is the argument, as there was in the book, that failure is something we must embrace and that if you are not failing you're taking it too easy.  I certainly wasn't taking the easy route going to Polymer.  Everything is harder in a factory with no heating and shared showers.  You have to rely on everyone else for materials, tools, access to resources.  Even to make a cup of tea you have to go and fill a bucket with water.

It's not the first time I've 'failed' .  A few years ago I made a year long project on rejection after I failed to secure funding for a project.

Perhaps I knew when I began my investigation into making a photographic document of the process of making the document that the outcome was unpredictable.

Is this why my work feels better when it involves participation?  By involving others it creates certain unpredictability.  You can always rely on people to behave unexpectedly.  By asking people to be involved in making my work either through contribution of information, like at Show and Tell, action like in Invitation to Shred or materials like in the Fine Art of Rejection in each case it the outcome open and unpredictable.

Phase two taught me that I need to continue to write and to research and from there the making will come.  I am never satisfied with the things I make by myself.  They lack something.  They lack any sort of connection, they are contrived and awkward.  I am always impressed by what I can facilitate in others, what I can instigate.

At the beginning of this process I wanted to delve into dialogical practice and 'relational aesthetics' and somehow I got distracted because I was isolated and I tried to impress by making clever art.  Now that I have learned some new skills in early photography which I feel compliment my current skills I know that I can learn new skills but how I apply them should embrace chance, or more correctly acceptance of unpredictability and the best way I can do this is by re-appropriating these processes to create a different object determined by the circumstances it is placed into.




# 147 [19 December 2011]

Have you been watching the You tube video's by Mark McGowan?

I think you should.

Despite all the terrible things going on i believe there is enough goodness to change things for the better.  We've all been living lives that exploit the poor and weak and now we have to change. 

Rip it up and start again.

As an artist I feel privileged, but with that privilege comes the responsibility to society to enable change.  By facilitating a discussion about what we have got now and where we would like to be the artist can 'reveal mystic truths' as Nauman declared.  Can we?

Can we really help the world? Is this an unachievable aspiration? Should we aim for it anyway?

What if what we reveal is not truth?  What if we are lead by riches, fame, power?  How do you remain truthful? 

On Friday I went to the Artworks Christmas auction.  Despite a crowd not a lot of works sold and none for the kind of money that could buy you a decent lunch never mind cover the cost of production.  A lot of the artists were disappointed.  I wasn't sure I felt as disappointed as they did.  My drive to make anything comes from a personal desire and the reason I share it with others is so that maybe they connect with it and it inspires them.  That's kind of enough for me.  I sold 4 framed works, all for less than a tenner.  I was glad that someone wanted it in their lives and like me I think they would have paid more if they had the money.  I bought 3 pieces for 50quid which was all of my wages from working in the restaurant this week.  I wish I could have paid what I felt they were worth, at least ten times that. 

Each of the pieces I bought I have a connection with.  I've seen them in the studio for months and they represent the artist, the time, the place.  The narrative is as important as the object.  In a way the objects are documents of the narrative and that's why I am connected with them because they are part of my narrative also.  The cash I hand over is just a representation for the appreciation of this and really the art always belongs to the artist.  The collector just holds the document.

Back to Mark McGowan.  He is uploading videos everyday reminding us about where we are. They are there for everyone to see.  The more people who experience them the better, but who is paying for his food?  Who buys his kids school uniforms and lunches?  If the artist is challenged with revealing mystic truths then these cannot be bought.  What does the artist do to feed themselves whilst in pursuit of mystic truths?  Work in a restaurant? Make craft pieces to sell? Maybe the collector also needs to change and rather than hold a document of the work appreciate that no object may change hands in the quest for truth.


# 146 [15 December 2011]

At the end of the event I went up to the tech room where I had set up my Flip HD camera held in place with a piece of blu tac.  It had fallen over and out of power.  Well, I thought, that's it no chance of having captured anything on this.

After yesterday with the trauma of capturing the video from the DV tape which took most of the day and then finding out the paper we'd used had been taken away by the cleaners I was overjoyed today to find that my little friendly Flip camera had stayed alive until the end and must not have fallen over until I'd arrived upstairs.

Now is the task of editing.  A while ago I did a course on Final Cut Pro, but only afterwards I researched the cost of the software so I haven't used it much since.  I have Adobe Premiere Elements but I find it so frustrating to use.  I think at university they have Final Cut Pro but now that the place is closing for Christmas I will not have time to edit...

..actually i got side tracked here...

I've just given up on Premier and decided to take stills from playing it in movie player as I pressed the fast forward key and almost fell off the chair laughing at the action in quick motion. 

I love how you can see how it developed, the different activities going on, the conversations and interactions between people.  If I edit it I would have to cut out these little sideline things that happened but these are important because they all informed the entire event. 

And the chipmunk style sounds are hilarious!

# 145 [14 December 2011]

It happened.

















Is it chaos? is it play? what would happen if we never stopped?

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Hi Jo, thanks for the link. I think Tim was talking about play in the context of creating ideas, as the seminar says serious play. I thought his ideas on creating a permissive enviornment were valid as well as his comments on the self editing we do as adults. In the piece I presented the rules were vague. I offered examples (as Tim did with the circles) and the group followed, when I behaved differently and broke the rules I had set up this created a permissive enviornment for the participants and they quickly made up their own rules for the various games we played. Like the children Tim describes we repeated similar activities over and over. Some played alone, some instructed others. We constructed and destroyed cycically. There was no purpose to the activity other than to see what happened. I think we did loose ourselves, we were free and lost and like children out in the snow.

posted on 2011-12-15 by Rebecca Strain

I watched a great talk by Tim Brown, IDEO CEO on TED, on the subject of creativity and play. "play is not anarchy - play has rules" I tend to agree with him, without some boundaries we can get lost to limitless possibilities. It's well worth checking out... Here's the link:

posted on 2011-12-14 by Jo Farnell Brown

# 144 [12 December 2011]

Tomorrow I will present a live art work in the studio theatre at AUCB that has been developed from an improvised performance at Polymer Culture Factory.

It's been cut down and reformed and is quite far removed from what happened in the first event.  The main focus of the event was tearing paper and this has remained the focus of this event but with so much stripped down will it still work?

Since the beginning of the new academic year I have been running Peer Critiques every Wednesday.  I've been using these sessions to learn about other people's work and to discuss why had how I am presenting this work.  On one occasion whilst we were discussing the use of sounds for the piece a loud debate broke out.  I sat and observed and then one student turned to me a quietly asked about the importance of the 'party' atmosphere that the music was intending to create. 

It was like someone had opened the window and let fresh air in.  What about silence?  What about allowing the sound create itself?  By adding music at the first event it created an energy. It was completely improvised; I asked Tanel to put on some music and he chose Bille Jean.  This was great for the event  but at the same time the connotations of this song, this artist added another level to the event.

I expect that the absence of this baseline will have a dramatic effect on the event.  The fact that the venue is an art college and that about half the attendees will be people I know and who know about my work will also change it.  The studio, professional lighting, HD camera, the planning and the fact that it exists outside of a festival and is in fact a research project will make everything about the experience very different.

What I need to decide is what I want from this experience.  Just like the previous experience I am nervous.  I have no idea how the attendees will react to the situation.  I want to see what happens without time constraints and without random additions.  How does the idea and the process stand up by itself? How do people engage?  How do I direct and manage the experience?

At the back of my mind I feel that the lack of sound will create tension, which hopefully will be released and transformed into giddiness and excitement and an atmosphere for play. This is the key thing for this activity; a group of people coming together to play this is the artwork, to create a situation where the public have a shared experience of playfulness.  Whether they understand that the destruction of rejected materials as part of a process to create whiteness or as Kenya Hara describes it itoshiroshi 'that extreme form of purity that is ladled out of chaos and which appears to us both potentially and actually'

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I have this wild theory that we brought this econmonic bust onto ourselves because we knew we needed to change. In 1999 we all thought it would happen on the stroke of midnight but things take time. We're having to rethink everything, education, employment, health, housing and how we support each other. I feel that it is a privilege to be an artist but that it comes with a social responsibility. I feel that part of the artists role is to facilitate creativity and the drive for change in society, not always on a huge scale but truthful, thoughtful and with sincerity to the public with whom you share your work.

posted on 2011-12-15 by Rebecca Strain

History is a cycle and the bust phase at the moment will give rise to more unemployment and I hope to a renewed rise in creative energy through music, art and literature.

posted on 2011-12-14 by Tim Ridley

Interesting that you bring up the punk movement and chaos. This idea came out of a residency in a disused factory Estonia, now being run by artists. Things are pretty raw and 'punk' in the art world there. In some ways it's like going back in time but also forward in apocalyptic way. It sometimes feels like the aftermath.

posted on 2011-12-14 by Rebecca Strain

Chaos is an interesting thing to use in art. The power of organisation as opposed to complete disorganisation, sometimes called entropy is great. The punk movement used chaos, and it was interesting to me that now we can look back and see that causing chaos took quite a lot of planning and management of a situation. Malcolm Mclaren was a master at all that.

posted on 2011-12-13 by Tim Ridley

# 143 [29 November 2011]

i've done a lot of talking this week already.  i feel better about my work. i promised to write my blog but i've mainly been writing in my sketchbook and reflecting on tutorials by typing them up and adding notes so i'm all worded out for now.

# 142 [21 November 2011]

It's Monday or Non-day for me.

Last night, as every Sunday night I listened to Ivor Cutler on BBC Radio 4Extra. 

Today I watched Marnia Abramovic on Channel Tate and the Gustav Metzer.

I tidied the study room and made curry then slumped in front of Apprentice with a jar of Nutella.

Tomorrow I will cycle to the sea.

And get frames.

# 141 [20 November 2011]

word for the day : Covert


Today I played a character in Laura ( Eldrets film Power and Service.

Set on site in Swanage, Dorset the cast was a group of volunteers who had created a character with the theme of power and service. 

I came up with my character after a dream I had whilst staying with a friend in London.  When I woke up I tried to explain but then resorted to drawing the image I'd dreamt of. 

That day I went looking for the costume to match my drawing. I started by looking for the right material.  I thought I might make it from scratch, but then whilst browsing the vintage shops on Brick Lane I came across THE dress.

It was more amazing than what I had or could have dreamt of.  I tried it on and as I did up the buttons it felt like it was made for my body.  I did a deal and handed over the plastic.  It was mine!

Today it came together, the dress, the quill tattoo, the gloves, the paper mask and a skull.  Slick! It attracted attention - as planned.

Is there a name for this character? Not just yet.  She has been formed maybe now she should get out more.

Sally O'Reilly ( will watch the finished film and create a script. Maybe I should write a script for this character I have created.  She has been quiet  I don't know if she can speak and her action is limited.  Maybe she is present and silent?


# 140 [10 November 2011]

Yesterday I was thinking and discussing intellect, emotion and instinct.  I was asked where does instinct come from and does it evolve?

I've started to do a bit of research into this.  I've re-checked out Performing the Body, Performing the Text which gives a good background into performance within art history.  I've also been watching the BBC documentary Born to Survive which attempts to explain where our instincts come from.

I've not finished either because most of today I have spent with the 1st Year Fine Art students in a workshop titled Stitch as part of their 'possibilities and process' assignment. I asked to be involved because I have no idea about Fine Art training at degree level and I was terribly nosey to find out.

Julia Faltman who was running the course invited me to be part of the workshop because I'd mentioned that my degree was in textiles.  This made todays workshop interesting from the point of view of how the idea of using textiles was presented to a group of Fine Art students. 

As a textile student the emphasis was on technique.  Understanding the history and mechanics of the machines we were using and the various ways to adapt them to our design.  First we had to show that we had mastered the tecnique then we could explore applications of it.  At the time I fould this difficult I always wanted to push the limits of the process not necessarily with an outcome in mind.

It seemed like todays presentation of stitch in art was much more open to exploration and discovery rather than mastering a craft.  each of the students reponded differently.  Some were comfortable with basic processes and were confident with getting on and making.  Some needed more guidance and inspiration and some had signed up believing it to be Sketch not Stitch and were begrudgingly sewing plain stitch onto calico and waiting for the day to end.

In a way I could sympathise with them.  During the Textile Craft degree I began to feel that this wasn't what I thought I'd signed up to.  Everyone else seemed confident and able to produce functional outcomes.  I thought about it too much and got confused in the endless strands of possibilities my mind offered.  I wanted to make something different.  I wanted to ask questions.  Often I would make hideous failures that were neither pretty or ugly enough to be desirable to the eye. But still I got through it and I've learned a lot about the practicalities of making.  Sometimes you have to try even when it is likely that it is over ambitious.

Another thing I came accross today was the book Hand+Made, The performative Impulse of Art and Craft. In it is a quote by Glenn Adamson (V and A) 'Craft only exists in motion'

Is this why I have been drawn to performance?  Is it that craft by it's nature is performative? It is a process using the body to create...



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Rebecca Strain

student of Fine Art