Archive for August, 2012

Research point: Textile Art part 1

Textile Art is the subject of the research point in Assignment 4. I’m going to start by looking at some works in the 18th Biennale Sydney: all our relations which use textile techniques or materials, but which I think would not be classified as textile art. The photos below were all taken on my phone. You’ll find much better images and additional information on the Biennale website http://bos18.com/artists#

I previously wrote about Nicholas Hlobo here (21-Aug-2012). On the left and above are closeups of Tyaphaka at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The base is paper, the stitching / lacing / weaving is in ribbon.

On Cockatoo Island is another work by Hlobo, Inkwili. The full work is large – 300 x 1200 x 400 cm. The materials listed are rubber, ribbon, hose pipe and packaging material. It is a site-specific sculpture, located on a slipway carved from the island and is joined by flotsam and jetsam from the harbour tides.

Based on quotes from the artist there are a lot of different metaphors and issues tangled up in this work – gender, ethnicity, ideas submerged and revealed, water as a source of destruction and sustenance; lack of control as people float in and out of our lives; the relationships between materials and between the work and its location…

Maria Laet has works at both MCA and the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW). Laet examines encounters, interplay between two parts. On the left is her work Untitled (Attempt to note the limit of the sea). Quoting Laet from the catalogue “In [it] sewing occurs at the limit between sand and sea, but each time another wave stretches itself out leaving a new mark – as if denying the ida of limit. Here, sewing could be the notation of an exchange territory, notes that become traces and eventually disappear.” Gesture is captured, extended, by the sewn line. Another work shows sewing in snow – so delicate.

El Anatsui’s Anonymous Creature is not a textile in material or technique. It is found aluminum (from bottle caps) and wire. His artist statement talks about consumerism, colonialism and relational links. To me the visual suggestion of a patchwork quilt or strip weaving is impossible to ignore. It’s not mentioned in the Biennale information I’ve seen, so I googled for a link between El Anatsui and textiles. In an interview with Alisa LaGamma at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, El Anatsui clearly positions his work as sculpture rather than textile based, but also comments on his early exposure to workers at the National Cultural Center of Ghana, including textile artists, and his attraction “on account of the fact that they were handling very abstract concepts” leading him to try to “replicate the motions of artists who created these forms or signs”.

Phaptawan Suwannakudt has a full room at the MCA displaying Not for sure. Neither in the artist’s statement at the gallery nor in the catalogue is fabric listed as a component of the work. The focus is on the use of text, overlapping and not able to be decoded, and the way humans connect through text. A quick search, and I discovered Suwannakudt learnt to weave in Thailand, and weaving has been a major part of her previous work (John Young Zerunge 2010; Traces of Asia catalogue).

I don’t know if the artist wove this fabric herself, and I also understand that in a room with perhaps a dozen components you can’t write about everything. Still, in the context of writing about Textile Art, it could be meaningful.

The canvas and text above are part of Nadia Myre’s The Scar Project. There were walls covered and tables stacked with canvases, each with an identifying number on the frame which matched to a page of text by the individual contributor to this interactive art installation. Participants write about their scars – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual – and stitch them onto the canvas.

At one level this can be seen as a study of symbology – for example, Myre has identified some of the most common motifs and used them in further work. At a more fundamental level, as Myre has explained “as a vehicle for people to anonymously share their personal narratives and traumas with others, the project creates a space that is simultaneously contemplative and  transformative” (Nadia Myer website).

Viewing this work, seeing emotion described with needle, fibres, scissors on canvas, was moving and challenging. Myre has produced a book dedicated “to those who sewed and scribed their wounds … sharing something human with us all”, which is available and part viewable on blurb (http://www.blurb.com/books/1193143).

It feels flippant and inadequate to mention it, but given this is my student learning log I’ll just record the obvious – the depth and reality here exposes the triviality of my responses to early project work expressing emotion in drawing and stitch.

This installation by Ria Verhaeghe is titled Living with cuddles”. Verhaeghe creates links, narratives, between images found in magazines and newspapers. Her created threads provide continuity and create links.

I don’t have a photo of Gao Rong’s The static eternity at AGNSW. For a start her embroidery is a very detailed trompe l’oeil, and a photo of fine satin stitch on a fabric window would look like a photo of flaking paint on a window sill. In addition this large, ambitious project is incomplete – the matching windowsill on the other side of the entrance is just fabric, unstitched. Last year I saw her work Level 1/2, Unit 8, Building 5, Hua Jiadi, North Village at the White Rabbit Gallery which was much more complete and in my opinion much more wonderful and satisfying. Gao Rong uses embroidery as a language, redefining it in a contemporary light. Gao Rong pays quiet tribute to home and family, especially her mother and grandmother who made beautiful embroidery.

Lee Mingwei’s The Mending Project is a participatory event. Anyone can bring an item requiring mending. There is a connection made between artist or assistant and the participant, through conversation as the artist mends in bright colours, celebrating the repair. The mended items remain connected to the threads for the duration of the exhibition.

Erin Manning presented Stitching Time: A Collective Fashioning in a huge room, the entire top floor, of a building on Cockatoo Island. These photos really only hint at the scale of the installation. Everywhere are pieces of fabric, hanging from a web on the ceiling or piled in hanging baskets. They are sorted by colour, and each is actually the shape of a dressmaking pattern piece, with lots of buttons, button holes and magnets in apparently random places.

From the exhibition Guide: “Stitching Time is a relational architecture, a textile proposition, a sewing circle, a tea party, an environment for emergent collectivity. Join us to design a garment, craft an environment, take a nap, sew a button, have a conversation. Come make time with Erin Manning and her collaborators.”

From the perspective of this Research Point, this is the most fascinating of the works I’ve selected. It seems so deeply rooted in traditional female textile concerns – working with pattern pieces, making clothes or your environment, sewing together, adapting by adding a button where needed, even the paraphernalia for sharing a cup of tea on the long worktable. That may be a part, but Manning crosses through multiple disciplines – dancer, painter, philosophical practice. She holds a University Research Chair in Relational Art and Philosophy in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University (Montreal). Manning has a list of publications as long as your arm (assuming you have long arms!), including an essay “The Art of Time” in the Biennale exhibition catalogue. In it she writes of “Art as the intuitive process for activating the relational composition that is life-living, for creating a memory of the future that evades, that complicates form. The art of time: making felt the rhythm of the differential, the quality of relation” (Manning, 2012). Out of context, which makes something difficult even more difficult to understand, but unlike some artist statements that seem to me more a conglomeration of catch-phrases (and one at least I saw I am absolutely certain was an intentional joke) this seems to me to have real fundamental meaning in both art and human terms. I only catch glimmers, but I find them enticing. There’s a much more approachable video of the artist speaking at http://bos18.com/artist?id=92

There were so many more works that used textile techniques and / or materials, and sometimes actual textiles (for example Jin Nü, who uses twenty silk children’s dresses in Exuviate II:Where Have All teh Children Gone?). There is no doubt in my mind that textile techniques and materials are entirely acceptable as part of an artist’s practice. At this point of my research I’m not sure about “textile art” as a term. As I was searching on the internet for more information about the artists shown above I found references to “visual artist” or “multi-disciplinary artist”, but not “textile artist”. Instead I found a fairly recent article by Jessica Hemmings discussing the work of Nicholas Hlobo and El Anatsui among others, in which she commented on the discomfort some of the artists felt about the term textile art as a discipline and continues “this may be fair, particularly in light of the undervalued position textiles tend to experience, both in academic and commercial contexts…” (Hemmings, 2010).

There’s also a question mark over the ability of artists who come from a textile making (rather than fine arts) background to move into showing their work in a fine arts environment. This is one of the issues discussed by Elissa Auther (see my post of 26-May-2012), considering the different treatment of apparently visually similar works, based on the background and “credentials” of the maker. Of the artists listed above, the two who seem to me most textile-oriented in the exhibited work, Gao Rong and Erin Manning, both have formal academic training in fine arts.

I will be returning to some of these questions and to a discussion of the work of some specific textile artists in later posts, interleaved with some of the more practical course work.

Auther, E. (2009) String Felt Thread: The hierarchy of art and craft in American art, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press

Hemmings, J. “Material meaning” in Wasafiri Vol. 25, No. 3 September 2010 (http://www.nnennaokore.com/IMAGES/Wasafiri.pdf Accessed 27 August 2012)

LaGamma, A. “Interview with El Anatsui”, http://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/audio/collections/022-interview-with-el-anatsui Accessed 25 August 2012

Manning, E. “The Art of Time”, in de Zegher, C. and McMaster, G. (ed.) (2012) all our relations: 18th biennale of Sydney 2012, Sydney: Biennale of Sydney Ltd.

http://www.erinmovement.com/erin_manning.html Accessed 27 August 2012

Myre, N. “The Scar Project” http://www.nadiamyre.com/Nadia_Myre/portfolio/Pages/The_Scar_Project.html Accessed 27 August 2012

Myre, N. (2010) The Scar Project, blurb.com (http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1193143 Accessed 27 August 2012)

Sambrani, C. “Phaptawan Suwannakudt” in Nakamura, F. (ed.) (2010) Ephemeral but Eternal Words: Traces of Asia, http://hrc.anu.edu.au/sites/hrc.anu.edu.au/files/docs/2010/TracesofAsiacatalogue.pdf Accessed 25 August 2012

Young, J. (2010) “Phaptawan Suwannakudt: Wakeful Moment Catching the Moment: Each Step is the Past”, http://www.johnyoungstudio.com/cms/resources/wakeful-moment.pdf Accessed 25 August 2012

Assignment 3 Reflective Commentary

In feedback on Assignment 1 my tutor Pat commented that this course has become a personal journey for me, very much part of my life. As I reflect on Assignment 3 I can see how true that is. I’m currently on a three week holiday, spent at home with some course work, some sketchbook work and some exercise every day, a couple of outings with friends to a gallery or exhibition each week, some family time – a totally satisfying and fulfilling way of life (and note course work came first).

At this stage of the course I feel I am seeing the world more keenly, more thoughtfully. I haven’t blogged about Biennale yet, but previously I might have looked at Nicholas Hlobo’s Tyaphaka and thought about preconceived notions of gender (which I’ve read is one of the artist’s interests) and would pretty certainly have looked closely at the stitching and weaving in ribbon on the paper. However I wouldn’t have been so conscious of the line, the mark-making, or specific use of colour. I wouldn’t have been putting markers in my memory about the use of positive and negative space. I probably wouldn’t have had a conversation about textile techniques used in fine art, nor gone to the exhibition a second time with a different friend and looked forward to seeing this work again.

I’m satisfied, moderately pleased, with my appliqué – no more than that. I was more fluid in my working method but the results are lacklustre. I was much more engaged by the fabric manipulation sampling and feel I explored reasonably widely and deeply. I had a point of view, a personal set of constraints (machine stitching, undyed fabrics, translucency…) which gave focus and purpose. I believe there was more spontaneity and responsiveness in my approach, but more a question of degree than a real breakthrough at this point.

My sketchbook work has had a few dry periods, but I’m slowly gaining confidence and (relative) skill – at least sufficient for my purposes. It’s certainly beginning to feel natural as part of development of textile work. (see more of the sketchbook here).

Project 7 is my theme book – ageing, and suicide among the elderly. I’ve been doing most of my work on this offline and focusing on an individual, but may rethink this following a  conversation last weekend with someone personally connected to two other stories. At the moment I’m basically collecting information, ideas, some images that may or may not fit in.

The next Assignment is on Structures – yarn and woven structures. I’m going to have to let go of everything I think I know, and make sure I approach everything with fresh eyes, an open mind, and a spirit of adventure.

Project 6 Reflective Commentary

Project 6 began back on 13 May with a fabric review, then came collage, appliqué, 3-D, and always sketching and design development work. As I worked through this project I had some specific goals in addition to the standard course requirements. In feedback on Assignment 2 my tutor Pat commented on my tendency to tight and controlled work, working things out in an academic way, and the need to develop a more fluid approach, going with my intuition and allowing myself to acknowledge my emotive response. So in writing this commentary I’ll be reflecting on that as well as the specific questions in the course notes.

How does working with fabric in this way compare with working directly with stitch?

I find working with fabric more direct. I can hold it in my hands, feel its properties, layer and fold and twist it. To me stitch is an addition to fabric, hopefully enhancing it. Fabric is the core. It’s a matter of emphasis – fabric isn’t just the foundation for stitch, it is the foundation. (Having said that, I’m reminded of Maria Laet’s work in the Sydney Biennale. Her photographs show stitching in snow, the sandy shoreline…).

I found it easier to work intuitively in the 3-D section. Even though I chose to do a controlled set of comparisons, with each individual fabric I was delighting in its specific response to the transformation. For example I could see the cheesecloth bunching under the pintuck foot, and immediately respond by varying my tension and direction holding the fabric.

Are you pleased with the shapes and movements that you have created in both appliqué and fabric manipulation? What would you do differently?

The appliqué samples are all pretty static and boring, except for the “orange scribble” piece (sample 3). After all the prissy, dinky mini-samples (sample 1) and the very tight portrait in silk (sample 2) it was a relief to relax with a high level idea and responding to what I was seeing.

I became very involved and excited with the 3D work. There are some really interesting and lovely results, and heaps of potential.

In terms of doing things differently, I’ve tried to note lots of ideas and things to try as I’ve written about each stage. I’ve stayed for a large part of the time with my preferred natural fibres, but I’ve also challenged myself to work with some other fabrics. There are lots of places where I could do more, but I think the approaches I’ve taken have provided good learning, opened my eyes, extended my skills and created a resource to help drive further work. I’m also becoming aware of personal preferences and attitudes which could be the kernel of my own unique voice and style. So I want to challenge and push, but also nurture what is natural and meaningful to me.

How did the pieces work in relation to your drawings? Were the final results very different from the drawings? Did the fabric manipulation technique take over and dictate the final result?

Both the appliqué and the manipulation final samples remained close to the drawings. In the appliqué I wish it had remained closer, because a couple of nice curves from element to element were lost (eg on the right hand side, two reflections leading up to the stalk dimple (is there a proper word for that? navel?) of the top right fruit).

With both of them I did a series of drawings just before starting work, additional to the original drawings. Then I basically put the drawings to one side while working with the fabric. This meant detail adapted and changed as work progressed, but the overall result clearly relates to the source material.

In the 3D sample my drawings were based on three zones of different textures. I actively used my previous samples to select a fabric and techniques to use. When I introduced the silk cocoons to support the fabric puffs, then still more cocoon for lower relief texture, it was part of a flow, a back and forward between my ideas about the drawings and the shapes and possibilities I saw forming in my hands. I’m looking forward to Pat’s feedback, because I really feel I’ve made steps in the direction she suggested and I’d like some external perspective on it – whether I’m right, what and how to push further.

Was it helpful to work from the drawings in the appliqué exercise? Would you have preferred to play directly with cut shapes and materials?

My work shows three different approaches. Sample 2, the military photo, was basically a totally mechanical exercise of reproduction. I achieved my objective but for me see no future in such a rigid approach.

Sample 3, the orange scribble, is in the spirit of the original drawing rather than directly working from it. I keep saying it’s a bit of a mess but I liked having that sense of a general direction, a reason or guide in making decisions as the work progressed. Without drawings or some kind of plan, I generally feel I am just tinkering around until/unless an idea comes along to give at least a short term guidance to the experimentation.

My final sample, the fruit, is somewhere between those two extremes. I don’t think I could have got the result I wanted without doing the drawing work first (well to be honest I didn’t really get the result I wanted, but I think I got close).

Since I’m trying to develop the spontaneous, intuitive side it would probably make more sense to play directly with cut shapes and materials. At the moment I like the idea of play and experimentation both in the sketchbook and direct with fabric, as a foundation to work and a way to discover new possibilities, combined with working purposefully and flexibly based on drawings and prior experimentation. Perhaps one constantly moves through different modes of work, especially on a large piece.

How do you feel about working with stitch in general? Is it an area you would like to pursue in more depth? Do you find it limiting in any way?

I’m a bit perplexed by this question. Is “stitch” a typo?

At this stage I don’t want to limit myself. Internally I still see myself as a weaver, augmented by stitch, appliqué, print, manipulation…  I like the idea of an arsenal of tools, techniques, materials, all available to be used and extended to meet whatever current purpose I have. If I wanted to excel in a particular area I could have tried a master weaver program. I have found satisfaction and interest in all the techniques introduced in the course so far. I want to pursue all of them in more depth. None of them stand alone.

Research Point – Craft part 2

Having considered different uses of the term “craft” here (18-Aug-2012) I need to look at why craft-produced textiles maintain a place in our society. The particular focus is why people choose to purchase them, the obvious alternative being industrially mass-produced goods.

I’ve quoted Octavio Paz in the past (16-Sept-2011) including “… craftsmanship is the heartbeat of human time. A thing that is handmade is a useful object but also one that is beautiful; an object that lasts a long time but also one that slowly ages away and is resigned to so doing; an object that is not unique like the work of art and can be replaced by another object that is similar but not identical. The craftsman’s handiwork teaches us to die and hence teaches us to live.” Earlier in the essay Paz writes “the destiny of the industrial object is the trash barrel” and “it becomes mere refuse that is difficult to dispose of.” Written in 1973, these passages are still reflected in contemporary concerns.

Craft-produced objects may appear to meet desires for sustainability, more local, perhaps part of the slow movement. I suspect such assumptions are not universally correct.

At a craft market a purchaser may be partly buying into a lifestyle, at least by surrogate. The idea of a free and creative existence becomes part of the object taken home. “Selling the imaginative lifestyle translates to higher prices” (Lucy Gundry)

Superbly crafted goods promise quality, luxury, exclusivity, privilege – evident in Gucci’s Artisan Corner

Appreciation, and therefore purchase, of handcrafted textiles may result from an appreciation of beauty based in human psychology and survival instincts. Predictability can be associated with security, and found in the repeating patterns of many textiles. Within that predictability, we seek to identify variation in detail – again important for survival, and again found in handcrafted textiles. (Barry, 2012)

Craft objects are generally unique, at least in detail, or duplicated in very low volumes, making them attractive to consumers tired of mass-produced sameness and conformity.

Purchasers may admire the skill they know was involved in making the goods or be attracted by the story behind the object, what it represents. This and a whole lot more about consumers of craft, what they look for and value, is in the report of a survey done by Morris Hargreaves McIntyre for the Crafts Council, “Consuming Craft: the contemporary craft market in a changing economy” (pdf here).

While searching the web for this topic I came across the term “craft consumer” – described by Colin Campbell as a consumer who “typically brings skill, knowledge, judgement and passion while being motivated by a desire for self-expression” (Campbell, 2005). Initially I only had the Abstract and assumed “craft consumers” referred to consumers who are craft aficionados and collectors, following trends and the development of individual makers. I later found the full text of Campbell’s article and realised  I had completely misunderstood the term. Instead, “the craft consumer is a person who typically takes any number of mass-produced products and employs these as the ‘raw materials’ for the creation of a new ‘product’, one that is typically intended for self-consumption.” So this more properly fits into my previous post on the meaning(s) of “craft” (19-August-2012).

Liz’s silk scarves

The final part of this Research Point suggested visiting a local craftsperson and asking about their way of working and personal meaning of craft. I had always intended to ask my weaving teacher, Liz Calnan, who has made a successful and longterm career in weaving. Unfortunately I’ve mismanaged time, so won’t be able to see Liz before I send this Assignment off. I’ll try to add her views in a future post, but in the meantime have a few observations of my own. I’ve included a couple of my photos of Liz’s work, but there is much more to be enjoyed on her website http://liztextiles.com/index.html

Liz’s mixed yarn shawl

Liz has a deep love and knowledge of all aspects of her chosen craft. She is endlessly interested in experimenting with new structures and materials.

Liz produces a wide variety of work. Scarves and shawls are the major part, but she also creates wall hangings, throws and rugs.
While she has a particular fascination with double weave, Liz uses a wide variety of structures and techniques. She also works in a wide range of colours, including colour schemes she dyes herself and many not necessarily to her personal taste. All of this provides the consumer with choice, able to find a unique textile that appeals to them.

Liz is very conscious of efficiency and productivity in her work, allowing her to provide good value to the consumer and a moderate return for her own investment of time and resources.  One example is the long silk warps she paints, cleverly designed to minimise waste and maximise variety. Such long warps mean loom setup time per item woven is kept to a minimum. Liz also has an extensive collection of looms, so is able to use the most appropriate tool for particular warps. She has multiple looms warped at once, each with a different structure, fibre, width… This helps with variety of product and also efficiency as she is able to tie on new warps quickly without needing additional time on rethreading etc.

An important concern for a production weaver is potential repetitive strain injury. Liz consciously cares for her body in the way she works – in her weaving technique, by moving from task to task, by maintaining general fitness.

Liz makes sales opportunities for herself. In the photo on the left are a bookmark and scarf by Liz, plus an enamel piece by her mother-in-law Heather Calnan, that I purchased at one of their roughly annual exhibitions in the Palm House in Sydney’s botanic gardens. Liz also exhibits  in galleries and craft shows with other crafts groups such as The Society of Arts and Crafts of NSW (http://www.artsandcraftsnsw.com.au/index.htm).

Obviously Liz also supplements her income by teaching weaving – although given the time and effort she puts into preparation and notes for her classes as well as the classes themselves, I suspect this is more for love of weaving and creating new weavers than the financial aspect.

Finally, to quote Liz on her website “I believe hand woven pieces should be functional but beautiful – a joy to use and behold.”

 

Barry, C. “Beauty theraphy: we analyse why the brain likes handmade textiles” in Selvedge Issue 46 May/June 2012

Campbell, C. “The Craft Consumer: Culture, craft and consumption in a postmodern society” in Journal of Consumer Culture March 2005 vol. 5 no. 1 23-42 (Abstract at http://joc.sagepub.com/content/5/1/23 accessed 20 August 2012; Full text at http://education.victoriavesna.com/MFACRIT2010-a/sites/default/files/uploads/u50/Journal%20of%20Consumer%20Culture-2005-Campbell-23-42-2.pdf accessed 20 August 2012)

Gundry, L, “Exhibition Review: Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshop 1913-19″ in  Textile Journal Vol 9 issue 1

Morris Hargreaves McIntyre “Consuming Craft: the contemporary craft market in a changing economy”, http://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/files/file/73c144804d83bd07/consuming_craft_full_report.pdf Accessed 20 August 2012

Paz, O. “Use and Contemplation” in World Crafts Council (1974) In praise of hands: contemporary crafts of the world New York Graphic Society Ltd

Research point – Craft

This research point focuses on craft-based textiles. The course notes suggest that while boundaries are blurring in terms of material, technique, function and concept between craft and industry and between craft and fine art, “craft practitioners” continue to share a common goal – to produce one-off or small production run quality items – and craft-produced textiles continue to hold a place in our society.

This falls into an ongoing area of interest for me – what “craft” is and the implications – which actually makes responding to this research point difficult. I’m starting with a selection of uses of the word.

* Craft as cutesy decoration. Alexandra Lange recently wrote that “craft” as a word has lost all meaning. She refers to the TV show “Craft Wars” (I haven’t seen it here), where it seems people use perfectly good materials to make or alter objects to be neither beautiful nor useful, but cute. Martha Stewart is another name I associate with the dressup and kitsch end of craft (for example almost any link at http://www.marthastewart.com/crafts).

* Mancraft. This is where the alpha maker man, self-sufficient, resourceful and wise, designs and makes stuff. My source on this is Dr Sandra Alfoldy’s special design lecture at COFA, available for download at http://www.cofa.unsw.edu.au/events/cofa-talks/listen. Alfoldy suggests the mancraft phenomenon is a response to the economic collapse, links to sustainability, and gives the illusion of control in a chaotic world.

One could roughly group these first two as gendered variants sharing some values – homebuilding, control, bonding. Sandra Alfoldy’s lecture also introduced me to the term “compensatory consumption” which has been defined: “Compensatory consumption is engaged in whenever an individual feels a need, lack or desire which they cannot satisfy with a primary fulfilment so they seek and use an alternative means of fulfilment in its place.” (Woodruffe-Burton and Elliott, http://www.acrwebsite.org/volumes/v32/acr_vol32_132.pdf). I can certainly recognise such behaviour at times in myself. From my current workplace, if I go out one door there’s a fabric and haberdashery store a few steps to the left, a stitching and knitting store a few steps to the right, and an art supplies store across the road. If I escape by the other door I’m safe unless I cross the road to the bookstore. It’s a dangerous area after a challenging work morning.

* “the craft” of something – the traditional techniques, design vocabulary, materials, natural constraints of a particular “discipline” or area of work. For an example of this usage in textiles see http://thetextileblog.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/franz-metzner-and-structure-of-carpet.html. Another craft (traditional skills and knowledge) area familiar to me is bellringing (for example see language in  http://www.bellringingfilm.com/). I’ve previously posted about the Gucci artisan corner (http://www.gucci.com/us/worldofgucci/articles/artisan-corner#1), celebrating fine traditional craftsmanship, and of course there are guilds such as the one I belong to, the Hand Weavers and Spinners Guild of NSW (http://nsweave.org.au/) (see my post https://fibresofbeing.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/preserving-crafts/ on 15 September 2011).

* A definition close to my own approach, by Max Fraser: “Contemporary craft need not be defined by genre, it can include a wide range of media, but whatever the medium, craft practice is at the core of the making process. It is a combination of hand, mind and eye – the technical mastery of tools, materials, aesthetic sensibility and design skills.” I particularly like this list of attributes of “…the more human centred definition of craft – where time, patience, evidence of hand skill, rarity, chance, snap decisions and risk of failure are all contributing factors to an object’s charm and value.” Interestingly Frasers’ essay “Lab Craft: 3 Digital Adventures in Contemporary Craft” (http://www.labcraft.org.uk/_downloads/Lab-Craft-galleryguide.pdf) is in the exhibition catalogue of a Crafts Council touring exhibition which displays the use of digital technology in craft. (Thanks to Cally for this reference).

* craft as something that isn’t art. My post about Glenn Adamson’s book discusses a prime example of this – https://fibresofbeing.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/reading-glenn-adamson-thinking-through-craft/ (6 July 2012). Avoiding a single clear definition, Adamson presents craft as a horizon to avant garde art. Adamson examines perspectives and implications of craft as Supplemental (not autonomous); Material (versus optical); Skilled (more complex, but perhaps beside the point in art); Pastoral (that is nostalgic and limiting creative freedom); Amateur. I think this has links to arguments in Elissa Auther’s work (see my blog post https://fibresofbeing.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/reading-elissa-auther-string-felt-thread/ – 26 May 2012). The label “craft” has been used as a negative, a way to exclude or diminish work, particularly that of women. Closer to home, at ATASDA (Australian Textile Arts & Surface Design Association), our Objectives start:

  • To promote, foster, develop & advance textile and fibre arts
  • To promote interaction and co-operation between textile artists and all artists using dyes, pigments, stitch and/or manipulative techniques for fibre and fabric decoration

(http://www.atasda.org.au/about.htm). The word “craft” is rarely heard at ATASDA. Generally when someone wants to introduce a new skill in their work they’ll talk about learning the rules so they can break them. It’s purpose that matters, not technique – or at least, only technique that is appropriate to the current purpose. I really like this approach, and enjoy the no barriers, no holds barred approach. That’s not to say that more traditional, beautiful, well-crafted work by members isn’t admired and celebrated, perhaps just being very clear that the kitsch end of craft is a long way away (unless we’re feeling ironic). To any friends from ATASDA who happen to read this, I hasten to say “my opinion only, of course” 🙂

* “Craft” has been used very broadly.  For example in “Making is Connecting: the social meaning of creativity, from DIV and knitting to YouTUbe and Web 2.0”, David Gauntlett explores the meaning of making and various philosophies of craft, from the skilled practice of a master woodcarver to traditional hobby crafting and on to trendy guerrilla crafts (knit-wrapped trees…). Gauntlett identifies an intrinsic human urge to make, and a joy experienced in making, whether that is handcrafts or well crafted computer code. He finds a connection between craft, creativity, our connection to each other and our entire culture, and ends the book with a vision for a political and social future where communities aren’t satisfied with consuming what is provided by “the system”, but take an active part in making the world their own.

* “Craft” can also be defined very narrowly. I’ve been reading “A theory of craft: function and aesthetic expression” by Howard Risatti for some time, but I’m struggling and haven’t got far. Risatti takes the definition of craft very seriously, as a necessary basis for developing a coherent critical theory. Rather than using materials, techniques or form to identify craft, Risatti focuses on purpose and function – so craft objects have functions of containing, covering and supporting. In this definition jewellery is an adornment, and cannot be a craft object. Surface decoration is not an intrinsic part of craft. Tools are not self-contained, having a further purpose and requiring energy input to make them work, so are not craft objects. By this logic, Risatti finds that cutlery cannot be classed as craft. I got as far as chapter 4, where Risatti argues that craft objects are made by tools, as extensions of the hands and reflecting their motions, but not by machines (page 51). Just a couple of pages earlier he had clarified that levers are machines, giving mechanical advantage and changing direction, distance and speed of energy. That’s where I’ve stopped. I think the vast majority of looms have levers of some kind raising shafts (backstrap, warp-weighted and a few other specific loom types being exceptions).  Woven textiles are definitely on Risatti’s list of craft objects (having the function of covering the body). I don’t know how he manages to reconcile this.

I’m continuing with other reading, but that’s enough to chew on for one post! Most of the above is actually off-topic for the question posed in the course notes – why craft-produced textiles maintain a place in our society. I’ll get to that in my next post.

Adamson, G. (2007) thinking through craft, Oxford: Berg.

Alfoldy, S. “Special Design Lecture: Mancraft”, recorded 9 May 2011. http://www.cofa.unsw.edu.au/events/cofa-talks/listen accessed 18 August 2012

Auther, E. (2009) String Felt Thread: The hierarchy of art and craft in American art, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press

Fraser, M. “Lab Craft: 3 Digital Adventures in Contemporary Craft” (http://www.labcraft.org.uk/_downloads/Lab-Craft-galleryguide.pdf Accessed 18 August 2012

Gauntlett, D.  (2011) Making is Connecting: the social meaning of creativity, from DIV and knitting to YouTUbe and Web 2.0, Cambridge: Polity Press

Hopper, J. http://thetextileblog.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/franz-metzner-and-structure-of-carpet.html (accessed 18 May 2012)

Lange, A. “Don’t Put a Bird On It: Saving “Craft” from Cuteness”, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/08/dont-put-a-bird-on-it-saving-craft-from-cuteness.html#ixzz23Ys7RIqk Accessed 15 August 2012

Risatti, H. (2007) A theory of craft: function and aesthetic expression, The University of North Carolina Press

Woodruffe-Burton, H. and Elliott, R. “Compensatory Consumption and Narrative Identity Theory”, http://www.acrwebsite.org/volumes/v32/acr_vol32_132.pdf accessed 18 August 2012

Other websites referenced:

http://www.atasda.org.au/about.htm

http://www.bellringingfilm.com/

http://www.gucci.com/us/worldofgucci/articles/artisan-corner#1

http://www.marthastewart.com/crafts

http://nsweave.org.au/

Relevant previous posts:

* Preserving crafts (16-Sept-2011).

* Reading – Elissa Auther: String Felt Thread (26-May-2012).

* Reading – Glenn Adamson: thinking through craft (6-July-2012).

Project 6 Stage 4 – final sample

For the final sample the course notes asked for further development of one of the drawings used in Stage 2 (blogged 15-May-2012 – doesn’t time fly!). I’ve chosen this course, and in general life I’m a rule-follower-type – but I couldn’t do it. I looked at the drawings and didn’t feel interested, let alone excited. Really, while working on all the earlier samples I’ve been thinking of the shell I sketched somewhat obsessively earlier this year.

I went through the plastic tub of work (aka my sketchbook), got out a bunch of shell drawings and zeroed in on this one. In particular the lower left and upper right sketches look vigorous and bold and textured and contenders for development.

Pulling out a page to start working on development, I got distracted by the wire of the spiral binding… Maybe that could be extracted and used in piping?

Some more work with the shapes in the original drawings and I felt I had a good idea to work with. It’s not that they’re anything wonderful, but I want to show the development for course purposes.

Next question was fabric. I considered my earlier samples.

All 65 of them!

If you’re another OCA student follow the instructions in your notes (there seem to be quite a few variants anyway as we all start at different times) – it turns out I’m not so much a rule follower but low level subversive. Rather than the suggested crispness of calico I decided cheesecloth was a good fit for the shapes developing on the page and in my head. I wanted to use what I’d learned so far and put a number of individual techniques together.

The first element of the drawing that attracted me was  jagged swirl. I used an idea direct from Claire in the same section of the course (here) and tore along the edge of the cloth, so the gathered strip is all part of the one piece of fabric. You might be able to see the wire extracted from the binding in the photo too – nice wobbles.

The next element was bubbles or puffs. The slashing technique could do that, and by folding the fabric back on itself I could continue with the single piece of cloth. The puffs looked a little flacid and angular. I used some silk cocoons inside to fill them out. I ended up capturing some smaller pieces of cocoon under the cloth as well, so I did get a quilting sample after all. This part I did by hand – the cocoons didn’t fit under the machine mechanism and it was all a bit difficult to handle. I’m glad I did this, as I was able to get a really nice relief effect.

The third element in the development drawings were long sweeping curves a bit like flower petals. I was a bit concerned about the lightness of a single layer of cheesecloth and seriously considered the pva moulding sample (!). In the end I went with piping, although not with the reclaimed folder wire (a bit too heavy).

Some overstitching around the edge gently continued the curved movement. The first attempt of a ruffle (still hanging off the edge of the initial gathering) was too heavy and distracting.

The final sample is an oddity, and very difficult to photograph the whole thing at once without the gathered part looking like a single mass.

Closeups work a bit better.


I can’t make up my mind about the final result. I like different parts but something’s wrong – it doesn’t make sense as a whole…

The gathered end looks too heavy. Simply reorienting it so it hangs down from that end helps marginally. I tried holding it up in front of the window, back lighting being my friend in this project, but no good. The gathering is heavy, distracting and uninteresting. If this wasn’t a sample with a purpose I’d have the scissors out.

Project 6 Stage 4 – felting

Previous work in this stage looked at gathering, pintucks, piping, slashing, pleating and moulding and quilting.

When I first started this project (in stage one, 13-May-2012) I considered the possibility of including some weaving or felting. The examples I showed didn’t fit with the study I’ve been doing, but I decided to try felting into my sample set of fabrics.

My basic process was:

*take a piece of study fabric roughly 42 cm square and lay down on a length of bubblewrap.

* lay on merino wool fibre, two thin layers with the fibre first horizontal then vertical, with a couple of areas of cloth left uncovered.

* wet down with warm water and olive oil soap.

* roll up bubblewrap, tie in a bundle then roll back and forward a few hundred times. Periodically untie, check, rotate, repeat. By the end of this the fibretips have wriggled around, some through the fabric, and everything is holding together.

* Unwrap everything and full the pieces, shocking the fibres by plunging into cold then hot water, kneading with more soap and throwing the work down hard on the worktop. The wool fibres twist tightly around the fabric and each other, compacting densely. The original fabric is pulled in by the fibres.

* Rinse, lay as flat as you can, and leave to dry.

There are lots of variations to this process – everyone seems to have their own magic (soap flakes dissolved in water, dishwashing detergent, an electric sander instead of rolling…).

Above is a detail and on the left is the full cheesecloth and wool piece. The final result is around 27 cm square, so the original fabric has shrunk (or actually crinkled) by about 37%.

I did the first four samples at the same time – cheesecloth and the three light silks. I was confident these would all felt well, in fact the cheesecloth was the only one I haven’t used in felt before. The results are superficially very similar, although in detail different in sheen/matt and to the touch. Overall the felts would be a bit heavy for a scarf – you’d want to leave more fabric exposed, but certainly light and drapey enough for a vest or light jacket. However for this particular study the most interesting parts are at the boundary of the main felt and the fabric “windows”. The wool to some extent overwhelms my study fabrics.

I decided to do second, smaller samples of the light fabrics, this time with a super light layer of merino fibres in one direction only. The goal was to see more clearly the individual character of my study fabrics. The cheesecloth version is above, only about 13 x 4.5 cm. The open weave of the cheesecloth allowed it to collapse very easily into the felt, and the result is very soft, light and airy. The photo isn’t brilliant, but there’s quite a variety of density in the piece, providing visual interest.

The tissue silk is the smallest final piece, having reduced to about 26 cm square (around 38% shrinkage). It feels slightly rough but soft to the hand and has a matt finish.
In the second sample it formed soft, rounded folds.

The paj silk has a sheen and glows. It feels soft and smooth to the touch – luscious. In the small sample it doesn’t melt and conform with the wool as in the previous samples. There are almost soft little puffs of fabric gently rising above the surface. Looking at the sample now, the windows of the exposed silk have a shine but are transparent. It would be great in a reveal/conceal application. Checking back with the other samples they have the same effect but I hadn’t focused on it previously – perhaps the paj shine is reminiscent of glass, calling my attention.

Above and to the left are the silk organza samples. The organza seems to reject the wool, springing away from it. No gentle moulding, it has to be captured by the fibres. There is a roughness or crispness to the hand, especially in areas with less wool.

As with all the samples, I wasn’t concerned about making the felt flat or square – that wasn’t the point of the exercise.

All the main samples above look pretty similar, despite my attempts to focus on their different properties. Originally I thought this would be all I had to show of felting. The other three fabrics – cotton, hessian and panne velvet – were poor candidates for nuno felt, being thick and heavy and in one case 100% polyester (even light synthetics being difficult to felt into).

Still, I was determined to give it a go despite my expectations, especially since I’d bailed out on the quilting. I took the precaution of pre-soaking the fabrics overnight in soapy water and did quite a bit of extra rolling. I thought it would be an exercise in frustration. I was wrong.

Above and to the left is the cotton. Actually I did think I had a chance with this – a mid-weight fabric, and cotton voile (and cheesecloth!) pose no problems in felting.

It has shrunk less than the previous examples, around 26%, but you can really see the shrinkage! The windows aren’t interesting as the fabric is basically opaque, but the result overall is much more in keeping with the purposes of this Stage, in being clearly a 3-D result.

As you can see above, this sample also has me holding it up and taking photos in front of the window again. Very nice patterning. There’s a bit of banding, which I expect is related to the way I lay down the fibres and the amount of overlap. If I wanted to go further with this I would card the fibres first (I have a drum carder), rather than just pulling the fibres directly from the purchased top.

The hessian sample is a funny little thing. I’ve run out of white hessian and no more in the stores I’ve tried (including two big chains), so just placed a few pieces near each other, layered on the wool fibre and hoped for the best.

Quite frankly I am amazed at these results – yet another reminder of the dangers of assumptions. The wool is well adhered to the hessian, in fact the sample is surprisingly soft to the touch due to the wool fibres coming through the fabric. The back view on the left above is interesting too, with little mountains of hessian protruding through the mists of the merino.

Of course I had to try the back-lit-at-the-window view. I like it a lot. The front, the back, the back-lit, the hand, the edges of the various pieces of hessian – I like it all and I want to use it in something. I actually think it would be not unpleasant to stitch into by hand. It would provide an interesting base to work with a variety of weights of thread. I’m going to have to watch out for an appropriate opportunity.

Finally we come to the panne velvet. The windows of exposed fabric definitely didn’t work. In the photo on the left the sample looks like some kind of woman’s undergarment with unpleasant sagging elastic. So focus back on the photo above. At least in large scale you can actually see the wool fibres coming through the velvet – I was careful to lay the fabric face down and layer the wool on the back. The wool softens the shine of the velvet. There’s still light and life and movement, but not so aggressive.

The back view is quite pleasant too. Dimpled, and most just the wool apparent. Quite different to the lumpy mess at the bottom of the post on slashing (5-Aug-2012). I wouldn’t want to make it the centrepiece, but it wouldn’t be a negative.

The back-lit view looks good as well. I find myself thinking about the possibilities of colour – the wool fibres and the panne velvet. It’s probably too heavy to throw shadows, but maybe a lamp-shade-like application would work. One would have to think about the impact and dangers of heat, but possibly wool at least has a reasonable rating on that.

This brings the experimentation section of this Stage to an end. With each technique I’ve noted more avenues of exploration, but it’s time to move on. Next is the final sample, so I’m going to pull out lots of sketchbook work, pile up all my samples from this stage, and ponder possibilities.

 


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