I often do talks about my work around the UK, which is fun, I really enjoy it, mainly because it gives me a chance to let out my inner stand up comedian. I can’t resist going for the laugh everytime. Ha ha! Anyway at the end of these talks there is a chance for people to ask questions, and people always point at some aspect of the work and want to know “why did you do that?” I look at the particular thing they are referring to and think…’I have no idea’. However I usually think of something on the spot which makes me realise that I do actually ‘have an idea’ I just haven’t really said it out loud before. So I see this blog as a place for me to look at certain aspects of my work and think about ‘why did I do that’? Out loud.
Carrying on from Richard Serra and Carl Andre, as part of the series of minimalist works, I included that of Robert Morris. Who died only 2 weeks ago at the age of 87. His work was also typically macho and perhaps a bit arrogant. According to the Guardian he was controversial and cantankerous. To quote from the article itself:
When the Art Newspaper sent him a series of questions about the 1960s minimalist movement, he replied that the questions were “trivial, superficial, puerile, misdirected, irrelevant, egregious, distracted, dull, feeble, breathless, gossip-mongering, smarmy and lizard-like”.
He created a piece called “Box with the sound of its own making” which consisted of a large box roughly made of wood, about 1 metre square. Sounds issued from the inside of the box, of sawing and hammering. What a fabulous thing. What wit. There is humour there. I actually saw this piece somewhere and thought there was someone in it trying to get out!
I recreated this in the form of a small box made of silk organza about 10cms square, and from it came the sound of a sewing machine and scissors and rattling pins. I recorded the sounds onto a tape which played from a tape player hidden behind the wall on which the box was mounted. I told my friend about it and he came to the show specifically to see it and he couldn’t find it! (too small and too quiet!)
Following on from my discussion of Richard Serra’s Trip Hammer, I came across an article in Nero Magazine about his piece called Tilted Arc which was installed across a plaza in New York in the 1980’s. It was constructed in 1981 and removed in the dead of night in 1989, after court cases and appeals from many artists and critics, 122 people testified in favour of keeping it and only 59 in favour of removing it, yet it was removed anyway. Its an interesting article. http://www.neromagazine.it/magazine/index.php?c=articolo&idart=1069&idnum=41&num=31
Many artists and critics testified, below is what Roberta Smith had to say:
“My name is Roberta Smith. I am an art critic. I have written for Art in America, Artforum, and the Village Voice. I speak here today as a citizen of New York City, a member of the art world, and also as a resident of downtown Manhattan who lives and works within five minutes of Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc.
The Tilted Arc is a work of art I want to defend in terms of civic pride, aesthetic quality and local illumination. New York is a town in which many good and often great building have been torn down to be replaced by ugly ones.
This is a confrontational, aggressive piece in a confrontational, aggressive town, in a part of the city where confrontations in court are particularly the order of the day. Serra wanted a piece you could not ignore but that you had to look at and think about every time you came near it. It is not wide entertainment and it is not an escape from reality, but it does ask you to examine its own reality, its scale, its material, its tilted sweep, and so the other things around it; and it is, as Serra has said, open to a multitude of readings.
It is not an easy work. It is disconcerting, but it takes years of schooling before you can read the classics of literature, and many of them are extremely disconcerting too. I ask you gentlemen – and it should be pointed out that these are all gentlemen on this panel, there are no women represented here – to look and think and work again, and to think not only about the plight of this piece, but also about the plight of culture in this country.”
Corten steel or weathering steel is used by the artist Richard Serra to make his amazing work which can be seen in public places all over the world. They are massive, the viewer is tiny in comparison, the surface of the steel weathers in a beautiful rusty textured way.
This has got to be the most macho art hasn’t it? its made in steel foundries and then transported to the site on massive trucks, the logistics of erecting it are huge.. (ooh er!) and can be quite dangerous.
Is this then the complete opposite of work made from lace curtains? Which you can construct yourself in your own front room.
I made a fabric version of one of Richard Serra’s pieces called Trip Hammer, which is on view in Tate Modern. This is one of Serra’s smaller pieces and consists of 2 pieces of corten steel, one balanced on top of the other. It is not fixed in anyway just the positioning of the pieces and the way they sit in the corner, as well as the way they are perfectly balanced of course, keeps them upright.
My version is an exact replica except its made of 2 large sheets of foam covered in a brown painted fabric. It was very difficult to get this softer version to stand up proudly like the Serra one. I had to get my taller friend to stand behind it and hold it up, but of course she couldn’t do that forever, so she let go and down it went, quite elegantly though. However there were other ways and arrangements in which it would stand up for a bit longer. Anyway you put it, still looked like a Serra, just not Trip Hammer.
Alongside the actual piece is a paper dressmaking pattern so you can make your own floppy Trip Hammer and have hours of fun trying to make it stand up.
So if Carl Andre used bricks I’m going to use old curtains. But how? To start with I decided to copy Mr Andre by recreating his Equivalent VIII with exactly the same dimensions, just instead of bricks I would use foam blocks covered in old curtains. And see where that takes me. This change of materials immediately renders the work somehow domestic and female and more fun! To emphasise the homemadeness of this I created some dressmaking patterns or ArtPatterns which would allow people to go home and make their own minimalist artwork! Hooray, thus putting a very sharp pin into the bloated seriousness of minimalism. There is humour in this too particularly if you are familiar with these artists, but the paper pattern shows images of the original macho hard industrial artwork against the softer more floppy version. Of course Claes Oldenberg did something similar, but was his work funny? Is there humour in minimalsim? Oh yes there is!
I call myself a textile artist. Why? Am I not just an artist? I call myself a textile artist because I feel it sums up what I do. I use a sewing machine, I use fabric, I sew, I stitch and I screenprint. I do all these things on paper as well as fabric, but there is always a textile element in there somewhere. Also there are other artists called Rosie James so I don’t want people to confuse me with them!
It is interesting why artists work with particular materials. I once made a series of works based on famous minimal artworks (more on that later) and I became interested in the work of Carl Andre.(picture shows Equivalent 8 by Carl Andre) I read an interview with him in which he said that when he was a kid he would walk past a brick factory everyday on his way to and from school. This fascinated him, the way the arrangements of the piles of bricks would change everytime he went past, the colours and patterns in the different types of bricks. This stayed with him and drew him to use bricks in his work when he became an artist.
I thought about this and wondered what my ‘brick factory’ was? What did I walk past on my way to school?- not much, lots of houses. However one of my strongest childhood memories is of the curtains my mum made on her treadle sewing machine. This was in the late 60’s early 70’s, I can still see the pattern in my head. They were large stylised flowers( a bit like marimekko or ikea) in shades of green, brown and orange. So there we are, that’s why I work mostly in textiles! My brick factory is a 1970’s curtain!