An account of the process of conceiving, developing and producing a 2 week interactive textile installation commission for Origin: The London Crafts Fair, Somerset House, London this coming October.
I can only describe how I have been feeling since Origin/Crafting Space ended yesterday as elated exhaustion. The weekend was a constant, intense flow of people, right up to the closing minute. The structure seemed to have absorbed so much human energy into its walls that it drew more and more attention as the hours passed. To think for a moment about the human desire to possess, make, give and receive objects and to reflect on the relationships they create seemed to be a potent point of departure.
A lot of our families came at the weekend and I think this is what made it more emotionally intense. I had to keep leaving the space to get fresh air and headspace. I also spent a lot of the time weaving or re-weaving loose ribbons and being in literal touch with the object, like a lover about to leave on a long trip. By the time Sunday, 6pm came around it became obvious that a ritual was needed to say goodbye -at least in the context of Origin. Those of the team who remained in the space – myself, Willow, Raphaella, Philip and Vijak- stood inside, put our hands over each others in the centre and thanked the space, all those who has been part of making it and sent out an intention for it to find its perfect place in the world. Then we sent this up through the open roof and began the fast and furious dismantling process.
I have really enjoyed the ride, the wave that these two weeks has been. The contact with so many people and the drinking in of their facial reactions and written/spoken responses.
I realise this is what I am supposed to be doing in the world and have a stronger sense of purpose as a result. As Willow and I stood in the courtyard at Somerset House watching the pavilion being rapidly dismantled, we noticed the neo-classical dome, the central point at the back of the building as you face in from the Strand. The echo of the shape of our structure –which I hadn’t noticed until that moment – made us both smile and this verse, came to mind:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The Tempest, 4. 1
I leave you with an image of the piece, on Day 1 and Day 14.
I will continue to write on the outcomes of this project as and when they arise.
Last night we had a drinks reception for Crafting Space and were brimming over with people for most of the night. The structure is 4/5ths full and there are only spaces left to weave at foot level and round the back. It looks magical at night, it sparkles and has an ethereal quality, especially as you look through and see the outlines of people around it, reading, weaving, and talking. I am already aware of how soon it will all be over and feel a small pang of grief that it will be wrapped up like a mummy and kept in a dark space. However there is already interest in exhibiting it and I am determined to find a permanent home for it, as it is by it's very nature a public artwork which needs the eyes of the public to keep its vital energy alive.
Documentation is key to this intention, and it has certainly been well documented so far. Without it, the work will cease to exist in terms of where it can move to. The Crafts council are making a three minute film about it for their website and have had a photographer shooting Origin each week and Crafting Space too. Lili has been doing some filming in the space and has taken photos, a lot of which I have used in this blog. Last Saturday and this Sunday, a photographer David Ramkalawon , who documented the Loom exhibition at Goldsmiths, is on site and we will post up some of his images of the finished piece on the Crafts Council site.
And that’s only visual documentation. Aside from noting down reactions to the work and having a comments book, we are going to transcribe the entire body of ribbon texts onto paper and Philip , one of the volunteers who works at the Arvon Foundation (‘a secret river in the world of literature’) is going to create a Caligramme – a transcription of all the texts that makes a visual picture-of the entire piece. Since even permanent markers are lightfast and the texts will eventually fade, it’s an important way of preserving the narrative of this essentially live work. I like the idea of it fading over time, of returning to its original state, but I would like to see this happen in public if possible, and visit it like an old friend.
Every other person asks where they can see it next and come up with all kinds of ideas. Yesterday, my favourite suggestion was the Reading Room at the British Library, to function as a reading/resting/reflecting space – for obvious reasons, but also the neo-classical form of the structure echoes the form of the original Reading Room there. We will see what the universe holds in store for it. I feel a bit like a mother talking about her child today, probably because I have been away for two nights and am about to go and pick up my (almost) one-year-old son, Moses.
We are right in the thick of things, too much to report really in 500 words. Will save my more reflective thoughts about what has come up for tomorrow. Today am sharing some transcriptions of selected ribbons together with a few images of them.
‘The importance of the tactile’
I received the gift of being a seeker..when I meet the giver I’ll say thankyou’
‘Golden leaves on necklace, beautiful autumn.’
‘A tiny token can relight dying embers’
‘I was given love and it made me feel’
Is a diamond still a diamond of you can’t see it? (Kelvin Birk jewelllery)
I like the bubble in the glass.
A handbag like a beautiful fan’
A gift from me –I like me more.’
The best gift I have ever received is time’
Elegant sheeps stomach creation’
‘A penis necklace made me scream’
‘I have been given sperm which made a father of my friend’
“Close your eyes and you will see better’
‘I love you physically, mentally you have destroyed me’’
‘Gifts are only gifts without strings’
My father gave me the gift of curiousity – to question not to accept’
‘Craft is an ancient and noble profession that is not appreciated or valued in the 21st century”
“All that is not given is lost”
Today’s a gift that’s why it’s called the present”.
‘Inspiring art is sweet tea warming my belly’
‘I wish I could speak like music’ (4 year old)
The Weaver's ArmsI stayed over in London at the weekend and was waiting at a bus stop in Stoke Newington, formulating the next blog in my head when i looked up and noticed I was standing opposite a pub called the Weaver's Arms. Started thinking about randomness vs design but then the bus turned up. Looking at the kind of texts people have written this week (i wanted to transcribe some and write them here but that will have to be tomorow's job as it got so busy at the space over the weekend and i was juggling having my family around too), I realised that enabling the use and power of touch within a work like this helps to move people on the inside in unexpected ways. A lot of people have written about gifts, both material and emotional, and it's almost shocking how much can be expressed in a 40 cm length of ribbon. Less is more, as Willow often says. I felt so full to the brim with social interaction by sunday night, it was good to have a calm day of remote interaction (emailing) and time with my children pottering.
I got an email from someone who had visited at the weekend and taken shots of the tables where people write their ribbons and the pen bleeds through. Lee wrote in the email:"I took a random photograph of the table top and if you look closely you can see the words 'make craft' 'wish' 'creative' and 'gift'.
So with expressing my enjoyment of your work, I also send you the picture" (See attached photo). These tables and their random(?) traces have givene us all great pleasure and we are keeping them and treating them as artworks in themselves..
There has been a changeover today in the exhibitor's at Origin so tomorow will be like a fresh page. The structure is over 50% woven we think, it's possible we may have calculated the space just right.
Two women came into the space yesterday who I immediately sensed were Iranian. In fact one of them was and the other was Armenian, a public art consultant who has worked around these kind of projects a lot and so understood it straightaway. I showed her my press book with photos of previous work, it was a good moment of connection.
They sat down to write ribbons and the Iranian woman seemed to go blank as to what to write and almost gave up. We got onto the conversation of my mother, which always comes up when I meet Iranians as they of course want to know which of my parents is from there. In explaining the loom project. I felt moved to tell them how she died (Phuket, 2004 in the Tsunami, just after Delia was born) and how her death has influenced my work. The Iranian woman asked my mother’s name – Parvin Azadeh Rieu – wrote her ribbon in Farsi, then offered it to me as ‘to the memory of your mother, with your name next to hers’. It was all I could do not to collapse weeping in the space, it was a loaded moment of grief and realization that she is absent and would have loved this work. It is nevertheless complete and it also very much references all I got from her – the shape, form and feel of the piece have my mother’s stamp of approval, I am sure.
Weaving in that ribbon was a point of connection with her and also with everything unnameable I have lost through her passing in terms of my connection to her culture.
There has been an issue over how I identify myself in the context of this work. Although I have used textiles as part of my work for 7 years, I feel like I am sailing through a new sector on a crafted vessel and need to navigate very carefully. The ‘C’ word (craftsperson) or the ‘A’ word (for artist, my normal catch-all form of identification) don’t quite seem acceptable or appropriate. Neither am I a maker..So maybe I am an artist-maker? Or possibly a conceptual-artist-designer- maker–who-often-does craft-based installations. Anyhow, apparently this debate has been raging for centuries and will continue to do so. Thoughts in an email please.
To get to the crux of it, Rumi said:
'I go into the Christian Church, the Jewish Synagogue and the Muslim Mosque and I see one altar"
It's appropriate that the closest tube to Somerset House is Temple, as people coming into the space keep referring to it with words like temple, cathedral, shrine etc and seem drawn to it, gazing up at the roof and beyond into what has been mainly blue, sunny autumn sky.
The structure glistens at night and is already almost 25% woven..