Well – another week has zipped past. We’ve now been told that our degree show is not being extended and we will close on Sunday 22nd June. Bit of a sigh of relief really. Its been quite hard to focus lately with the weather being so great – I can’t wait till I can just go out and lie on the grass and read the pile of books I’ve got stacked up ready for some free time. But I’m not complaining at all about working hard – I’m still enjoying it hugely. I feel like I’ve got through the block I had – I’ve just moved on and am doing other books with a view to coming back to the one I’ve found so difficult. I’ve made one whose inspiration was the staginess of the character in the film – I’ve always found him a real old ham of an actor. I also had in my head the Pollock’s toy theatre I had as a kid – I loved cutting out all the scenery flats and layering them up in different compositions. So another one nearly finished. We were provisionally allocated our degree show spaces today as well – I am quite happy with mine, although I don’t think (famous last words) that its going to be so difficult to show my work. Plinths plinths plinths I should imagine. Everything is very tightly controlled – we’ve been told in very definite terms that this is a curated show and we have to conform. So no props, no colour – the walls have to be white. Even our portfolios have to look the same. We’ve also had a thorough briefing on presentation and mounting of work. So many rules……I realise that actually the only way actually to shock a tutor is to window mount a piece of textiles and put it behind glass. Oh how tempting. Even when we have installed our work – it appears that this won’t be the end of things and we might be required to go back in after its assessed and move it for the degree show itself. Well, I’m trying not to think about all that now and just get on with the next book. And my journal…and portfolio…oh, and update my website (www.sarahmorpeth.com) …and worry about what I’m going to do next…..
This is another post about a fellow student -Lisa Smith ([email protected]; smiffymax.wordpress.com). Again despite being on an Embroidery course Lisa’s work doesn’t focus on this but primarily involves drawing and weaving. She is producing wearable sculptures – objects that are both beautiful and useful. She constructs her pieces from handwoven fabrics but they are as much about the form as the surface texture and colour. Drawing underpins her practice – in a sort of symbiotic process she draws, makes, and then re-draws and re-makes, each step building on the last. This creates an ongoing dialogue between her drawings and her objects. The increasingly large scale drawings depict huge knotted, twisted forms in space – and in turn influence the next form that she makes. She sees weave as a continuation of drawing – that there is no distinction between these processes. Her mark-making on paper explores form and texture and these same explorations occur as she weaves. Through a process of manipulating and sampling and drawing from these her pieces have evolved into functional sculptures. I think this is really what matters to her – a piece that can be worn around the wrist is as much a piece of sculpture as a piece in a gallery. Why should the context change the value that we ascribe to something ? As with many of us, her Dissertation subject has become unexpectedly relevant – she focussed on Japanese makers, in particular the Mingei philosophy of finding beauty in the everyday. Her work now seems to me to embody that very philosophy. Its really important too that her pieces are small – to be worn around the wrist or the neck – so that the wearer can focus on the cloth. Again this is another question of value – we are so used to being surrounded by cheap textiles that we don’t often pay attention to cloth as an object in itself. In turning her beautiful handwoven fabric into items which have that connotation of precious jewellery – this forces us to reconsider and appreciate the material. They stand off the body, retaining their own form, sitting in space in the same way as the forms in her drawings do. She is now working with multiples – finding ways of working with similar forms to be worn round the neck, working with different combinations of twists and knots and fastenings.
I think we are all getting quite nervous now. I have been struggling with my third book and it just has not been working. I realised in the process that I don’t actually like the character and find her quite intimidating – which I think partly explains some of my difficulty. Its also that pressure of having to produce something which is making me leap at solutions too quickly without experimenting sufficiently. I’ve now made three versions and I’m not happy with any of them. So I’ve decided to leave it for the present and and move on to another one entirely. It did do me a lot of good taking a brief break and going to the V & A for their ‘Blood on Paper’ Exhibition. I found it interesting and infuriating in equal measure. Infuriating because I don’t really think it lived up to the tag-line – ‘the art of the book’. Much on show really felt to me that it was only incidentally in the book form and it was often not really clear that the artist had actually been concerned with the fact the work would be in a book. Perhaps it was just that I was expecting it to be much more about that. Anyway I found some things on display really fantastic – Anselm Kiefer’s huge lead pages ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ were massive and evocative. I loved the way the lead wrinkled at the edges. I was also really struck by Cal Guo-Qiang’s ‘Danger Book – suicide fireworks’. In these he draws with flammable material and incorporates gunpowder; the book is then rigged so that the act of opening it will cause it to explode. A thoroughly satisfying concept. I love the idea that books are dangerous – words can change the world so books are burnt and banned and here the book is literally dangerous. Plus it tempts you – if you had one of them would you risk it bursting into flame in order to look at it ? Perhaps more useful to me though was the exhibition upstairs called ‘Certain Trees’ which focussed on a loose grouping of artists and poets who were and are involved in making and publishing books – influenced in many cases by Ian Hamilton Finlay. This was much more what I think of as artists books – books where the form and content are inextricably bound up together. I stayed on for the evening session – Friday Late – and went to a poetry reading which I thoroughly enjoyed, taking the opportunity to do a bit of sketching while I was there. People were invited to take a book and customise it over the evening – then participate in a sort of book exchange. I’m rather uncomfortable with the notion of altering existing books, so drew in mine – I felt it was adding to it rather than destroying.
I thought it would be interesting to discuss the work of some of my fellow students. It gives me an opportunity to talk to them in a bit more depth than there is often time to do and also shows the diversity of this course. Cathy Rounthwaite (e-mail : [email protected]) is doing interesting things with bones. Beginning with an engagement with folklore and tradition – a historical perspective on man’s interaction with the landscape, she has been exploring the ways in which so-called ‘traditional’ rituals such as morris dancing or the ‘Hoodening Horse’ (a ritual involving a wooden horse’s head) have been resurrected and reconstructed. These dances, rituals, songs are performed now by moderns for moderns, but, crucially perhaps, without an understanding of their original context and meanings. The rituals no longer have the power, or the place in our lives that they did. We do not now negotiate with nature in the same way – attempting to placate it with our observances and offerings. Cathy has examined these areas in her recent work, observing, organising and filming performances including an enjoyable maypole dance in which several of our year participated. For her degree show she has pursued this interest, turning to working with animal bones. These carry a real force, a kind of talismanic power as well as being beautiful and ambiguous objects. By transforming them both in substance and contextually Cathy is exploring the interplay between the object and its environment. They become something other – what are they ? Bone or cast ? Plastic or plaster ? They are beautiful but grotesque – we recognise the origins of these strange assemblages and are made uneasy by that recognition, by objects divorced from their original context and their very function. This ‘decontextualisation’ is at the heart of what Cathy is addressing. In a sense too she is literally showing us the bones of the rituals – meaning stripped away so all we have left is the structure. But they do retain a gloss both literally and metaphorically – an aesthetic quality which has a power of its own. Inevitably too they carry intimations of mortality – we are ultimately a collection of bones. Do we identify with them ? What do they say about ourselves and our own place in the world ? So I think Cathy’s work is full of interest and raises lots of fascinating questions – its thoroughly intriguing. She is working now on constructing and assembling her pieces; their form and placing will be really important so that’s something she is resolving in the run up to the degree show.
My practical work has been going very slowly over the last few days, I feel. The second book has developed a life of its own and is demanding much more work than I’d expected. Does a piece ever feel finished ? I don’t think so – it all feels like work in progress. What I’m finding now too is that its a process of letting go of some things – letting the book take shape and not forcing too many things into it. I had anticipated including some of the imagery I’d been working with – but it just doesn’t seem to need that. Simply bringing in colour seems to have done what I wanted. I had a useful tutorial which really confirmed what I’d been thinking. I am going to miss having this kind of support. I’m in a small group of four people and have been with them for the whole of this project (and others). We have a couple of hours a week with our tutor and often go for lunch afterwards and continue the discussion. Its a really helpful forum for making me think about what I’m doing – to challenge it. We often find ourselves at similar places – this week I think we all felt a bit tentative. The fact of there being a degree show – an end point – hanging over us I think has the effect of making us feel that we need to stay safe with what we are doing. Which kind of kills the work because you stop experimenting. Or you try to force it into a shape that it doesn’t want to take. I have to embark on the next book now – and I really don’t have much of a feel for it. I need to go back to the words of the character and see what that throws up. I also think – scary as it seems – that I need to take a bit of a break from making and stir up some ideas. I think I’m going to make a flying visit to London – to the Blood on Paper exhibition at the V & A.