Archive for November, 2012

Assignment 4 Reflective Commentary

I’ve spent the last day or so going getting Assignment 4 ready to post (snail mail post, that is). Each assignment the practicalities of that get easier – I reuse folders, have tags and labels ready to go, standard document formats on the computer etc. This means I can focus on reviewing what I’ve done over the last three months, plus the challenging task of editing the material down to fit postage limits. Overall I’m pleased with what I have to show my tutor, I think I have made solid progress – so it will be interesting to get Pat’s feedback since she is very good at blending positive feedback with prods at the soggy bits and suggestions for further stretching.

A review of Project 8 work can be found on 12-Oct-2012. Project 9 is covered on 16-Nov-2012, although that focuses more on the final piece of work. Looking back, major themes for me during the assignment have been trying to work more visually and intuitively (not so easy with the weaving component!), and trying to let go and trust the process we are being taught (sorting yarns, using mood boards, more detailed yarn wrappings…). Concerned that I might relax in my “safe place” of yarns and weaving, I also decided to challenge myself with the materials I used. All of this has made me uncomfortable at times, but I think I’m going in the right direction. The skills and equipment from my weaving past certainly helped, but I stepped well beyond my old boundaries and techniques. I’m excited about future possibilities and exploration.

Photos of all my sketchbook work during this assignment can be seen on this page. I’ve tried to mix up approaches, to keep it fresh, but mainly at the moment it relates to project work or whatever reading I’m doing.

The Research Point was very interesting and I’m continuing reading in the area.

I’ve made a little progress on my themebook – just a few sketches and collecting newspaper articles and comments. It’s mostly been thinking, trying to isolate a particular aspect or focal point. On the other hand I’ve also been trying to keep an open mind, not zero in on anything too quickly. It will be good to concentrate on this in Assignment 5.

Sketchbook, theme book and Francis Bacon exhibition

I’m getting things ready to post Assignment 4 off to Pat (my tutor) and want to record a couple of things before I forget. This post gets rather heavy towards the end, but I’m sure everyone knows how to click delete or back or whatever if it makes you uncomfortable.

In the OCA course we’re encouraged to spend at least 10 minutes a day working in our sketchbook. That turns out to be very challenging! Finding ten minutes of time, energy and an idea to work on is harder than you think – especially after a work day, or when absorbed in project work.

Early September I came up with a new strategy – each night plan sketchbook work for the next day, then each morning get up 30 minutes early to do the work. This is working pretty well (except when project work takes over), and that period of focus and purpose sets me up well for the day – a friend has likened it to her morning meditation ritual. Deciding what to work on remained a problem, then a couple of weeks ago I came up with the idea of combining it with my reading.

The essential encyclopaedic guide to modern art: styles, schools & movements by Amy Dempsey was recommended to me by Pat in her feedback to my last assignment. It has over a hundred entries, each just a few pages including illustrations, going from Impressionism, Arts and Crafts and Chicago School to Destination Art, DesignArt and Art Photography. For a few weeks now I’ve been reading an entry each evening (I’m such a creature of habit!).

I’ve found before that making notes and quick sketches helps me take a bit more time and absorb a bit more information while reading. Under the new regime I read an art history entry, then either choose one of the book illustrations or search around on the internet for a related image. In the morning my sketchbook work is based on that. I’m not trying to reproduce anything, just focus and think a bit better. The first photo above was after reading about Expressionism and is based on Emile Nolde’s Candle Dancers. The one on the left is from a work in the Ashcan school – Cafferty by Robert Henri. Really nothing like the original!

This is a collage using an adjusted photo of a kettle designed by Peter Behrens (Deutscher Werkbund movement). I’ve been trying to vary my approach each day. It’s only been a week or two so far, but it feels that I’m getter better value from both my reading and sketching. All very pleasant and ordered and effective, until Friday when I came face to face with art that felt raw and shocking and visceral and demanding and thumped me about the head until my ears were ringing.


The exhibition is Francis Bacon: Five Decades at the NSW Art Gallery. This link takes you to a slide show – the first image (when I just checked) is A study for a figure at the base of a crucifixion 1943-44, and is one … well, it’s actually a totally personal and individual response, because in every screaming face I saw Nancy, the subject or at least focus of my Ageing theme book.

So this is my sketchbook for Friday and Saturday:

Nancy is around 86. A few years ago, after years of pain that medical professionals have been unable to relieve, Nancy attempted suicide. She was put in a psychiatric ward, and has spent the last two and a half years in a high level care nursing home. Her pain has never been relieved. Any mental distress or disturbance she has been experiencing has not been addressed. She used to watch TV, and had a window through which she could see trees and the occasional bird. A few weeks ago Nancy had a medical incident – the family thinks perhaps another stroke, but Nancy is clear that she doesn’t want medical intervention. The last few times I’ve visited the television has been off and Nancy has been lying on her side, her back to the window. She is now totally bedridden and has bedsores on her back and her arms. I asked her what she thought about while she was lying there, hoping perhaps for some lovely memory or moment of redemption or meaning. “How sore my hand is” was the response. We used to chat about my family and hers – she was always interested in the kids. Now after a sentence or two Nancy just shuts her eyes. I feel like an intruder.

How can I express such pain in textiles? How can I shout to the world that this is wrong, that we have taken everything, all meaning, from this woman and condemned her to years of torment – all in the name of other people’s beliefs (not Nancy’s) and for fear of harming the vulnerable. Yes, Nancy is vulnerable – and anyone who could look at her and not acknowledge the harm being done to her right now, every moment we force her to continue, is … unspeakable. There is no redemption, there is no meaning, there is no dignity or respect for this individual, there is no hope except for an end.

Such a long and dreadful death should not define or dominate Nancy’s life, but neither should we look away and focus on the good and meaningful and loving parts and ignore what is going on. I think there could be another trap, thinking that somehow I could make Nancy’s experience meaningful by trying to use it in some way to promote change.

I can’t help Nancy. She is alone and abandoned and I can’t reach her. I’ll visit her this afternoon, as I do each Sunday – and I’ll try to chat or listen or leave early, whatever she wants. I’ll also keep working on my Ageing theme book. I know I won’t be able to express all I’d like to, but I hope I can find a way to express some part of it.

Research Point: Textile Artist Liz Williamson

This post is the last of Assignment 4’s research into Textile Art. There are links to all the previous posts on my last entry, about Julie Ryder (posted 18-Nov-2012).
The photo shows Liz Williamson at Barometer Gallery for Julie Ryder’s talk. I’m rather appalled to find that I don’t have photos of Liz’s work, so I have pushed the photo taken on my mobile phone to its limits to provide the closeup on the right. There are many more images and links to a huge amount of information at
The focus of this research point is the artist’s work – a description and the concepts expressed. The piece in the photo is from her ‘Loop’ series. It is an continuation of an ongoing theme of protection. I think it is a wearable variant of Liz’s ‘Sac’ series – doubleweave containers or nests, expressing concepts of enclosing, wrapping, shelter and protecting. The colours are dark and earthy, the materials include leather and silk dyed with black henna.
Another concept Liz has explored in her work has revolved around darning – usually an invisible form of repairing and prolonging the life of a textile, in her work made visible. Darns are records of marks, but worked to be unseen – often by women who themselves are invisible in the Australian history / mythology of nation-building. Liz has presented this very domestic work in gallery settings. The darned cloth has a memory of the body that wore or used it embedded in its surface. Liz has also recreated the texture of darning marks in jacquard weavings, enlarged, embellished and exaggerated, becoming visible works of art.
Darns and worn, deteriorated cloth can also be viewed as a metaphor for the aging that is part of all life. In her ‘Worn’ work Liz explored the processes of life and experience, aging bringing maturity, wisdom, remembered experience and a different kind of beauty to that of youth. This is not nostalgia or yearning for some golden past. To me it appears not a celebration or glorification of the past, more an honouring of it and recognizing that our present will soon be past. The resulting cloth has “a beauty of fragility, of suffering, of survival, and essentially of memory” (Lamb, 1996).

Previously (posts 22-Oct-2012 and 1-Nov-2012) I’ve written about the blended or interleaved roles filled by Textile Artists – designers, artists, craftspeople, teachers, academics, marketers, who work alone, with assistants, or in collaboration. Liz Williamson is the living embodiment of this ideal, a modern renaissance woman doing all this and more with charm and grace. Gushy and awkward, but consider:

Liz is a true master in the craft of weaving and has been recognised as a Living Treasure, a Master of Australian Craft. Since first enrolling in an introductory weaving course in 1977 she has studied and experimented with a wide range of weave structures and materials. She is technically very accomplished and has been published in mainstream weaving books such as her fulled seersucker scarves in The best of Weaver’s: Fabrics that go bump. Liz continues to push the boundaries of contemporary weave and was one of the artists included in the recently published Warp & weft: Woven Textiles in Fashion, Art and Interiors by Jessica Hemmings.

Liz holds academic credentials – MFA (COFA), B Art : Textile Design (RMIT), B Economics (Melb Uni) – and is currently Head, School of Design Studies at COFA (College of Fine Arts, The University of New South Wales). I have heard she will become an Associate Professor in the new year (staff profile here).

Clearly her role at COFA involves teaching, but I prefer to refer to the class I took with her at Sturt early this year (see post 14-Jan-2012). The photo shows work that I and my friend Desdemona did during that class. Des and another class member had no previous experience of weaving, but were able to produce beautiful work using advanced techniques such as doubleweave in neoprene in just a few days with Liz. Liz also inspired us with pieces from her extensive collection of textiles from around the world, plus a pile of books she shared with us during the week (my ongoing interest in Sheila Hicks was one result).

The photo on the left shows a scarf from Liz Williamson: Asian Selection. Liz has been involved in a number of textile development projects in Asia, working with local artisans to develop products for the contemporary marketplace. Both her design skills and cultural sensitivity have been required, for example working with a group in West Bengal who create embroidered scarves combining traditional Indian motifs with Liz’s colour palette and sizing (see more at Liz promotes and sells the work of such artisans through her Asian Selection.

Another example of her collaborative approach is Liz’s participation in Research in Experimental Design: Objects RED Objects, “a collaboration of practitioners and researchers exploring the relationships between design, craft, visual art, and their commentaries”. Last year I attended a symposium organised by the group (mentioned in my post on 16-Sept-2012) which examined methods of collaboration. A selection of papers from the Symposium can be found at

Finally, Liz’s advocacy for textiles and textile art in Australia has included ongoing support of The Australian Textiles Arts and Surface Design Association (ATSADA – the textile group I’m in). Liz has been guest presenter at a meeting, has Opened a number of our exhibitions, and was a major driver and supporter of the Art Textiles conference ATASDA presented in 2008 with Keynote speaker Jane Dunnewold.

I think all of that (which of course is just a small selection of Liz’s contribution to textiles) justifies just a little gush!

Resources Accessed 22-Nov-2012
(2006) Visible Darning: Liz Williamson Leaflet from exhibition held in Object Gallery 15 July – 27 August 2006
Cochrane, C. (2008) Liz Williamson: Textiles in the Living Treasures: Masters of Australian Craft series, Victoria: Craftsman House.
Hemmings, J. (2012) Warp & weft: Woven textiles in fashion, art and interiors. London: Bloomsbury Publishing
Koumis, M. (ed) (2007) Art Textiles of the World: Australia volume 2, Brighton: Telos Art Publishing
Lamb, J, (1996) “Liz Williamson” in Lamb, J. (ed) Below the surface Goulburn: Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Van der Hoogt, M. (2002) The best of Weaver’s: Fabrics that go bump Sioux Falls: XRX Inc Accessed 24-Nov-2012 Accessed 24-Nov-2012 Accessed 24-Nov-2012.

Research Point: Textile Artist Julie Ryder

Throughout Assignment 4 I have been working on an investigation into the work of the textile artist. Previous posts have been around the question “what is a textile artist?” – see discussion on Craft (18-Aug-2012 and 20-Aug-2012), textiles in Art as distinct from Textile Art (27-Aug-2012), a side-excursion on Art / Textile Art / Documentary (22-Oct-2012) and Designers and Designer/Makers (1-Nov-2012). The final requirement is to write about two internationally known textile artists. It was important to me to write about artists based in Australia whose work I have seen in life, not just photos. My first selection is Julie Ryder, seen in the photo at her artist talk during her recent exhibition Second Nature at Barometer Gallery.

All of these photos were taken at the exhibition, with Julie’s permission. I love the sunlight and shadows adding even more to the complexity of the marks on the cloth. Julie trained in science earlier in her life and the knowledge and disciplines gained in that time have remained a thread in her textile works. The fabric in the exhibition is mainly antique Japanese kimono silk dyed using a fruit fermentation process that Julie developed. In simple terms, cut unpeeled fruit in half (lemons work well), arrange pieces cut side down on fabric, leave for 6 months or so to ferment, scrub off the putrid black mess and you have your dyed cloth.
The complexities include measures to minimise risk with the massive volumes of mold spores created. Julie had access to special facilities, had to go through a lengthy process to determine risks and get approval for her work, and she wore appropriate safety gear when working. In fact all of the material in this exhibition was dyed by Julie fifteen or so years ago. A curator was particularly keen to exhibit work in this series, Julie no longer has access to suitable facilities (and I think was reluctant to return to a quite toxic process), so she worked with the pieces of dyed cloth still available to her.
The pieces range from button size to the hangings you can see in the photo, but all are human in scale. In some Julie presents the dyed cloth hanging simply, allowing the beauty of the marks on the woven texture of the silk space to speak. In other works she has combined fragments of cloth with hand stitching. Occasionally there is more stitching on the cloth, responding to the marks that have been made.
There is a gentleness and serenity in the results. Julie has said that her design philosophy fits in the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. She also references the break down of matter, the phases and numerology in alchemy. Seams shown on the outside reflect the inner beauty of people and things. (1)
In the time between her original work with fruit fermentation and the recent exhibition Julie has extended her range of techniques as she continues to investigate her particular interests. The photo on the left is to give just a taste of that. On the left is a cover of Textile Fibre Forum magazine, showing work from the 2005 artandthebryophyte exhibition(2) (I didn’t see this exhibition myself). On the right are leaflets I picked up at generate, an exhibition at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in 2008 inspired by Charles Darwin (3).

The digitally printed silk organza on the magazine cover, colourful and crisp, seems a world away from the natural dyeing of the fruit fermentation. For Julie it was a logical progression. Faced with restrictions on bacteria she could use in dyeing, she used a scanning election microscope to examine the structures of micro-organisms. The photomicrographs became the inspiration for digital printing, although she retained an element of hand work and connection to the cloth in the post-printing finishing. The works also reflect the research Julie undertook on the history of botanical science, systems of naming and more. As well as the printed silks Julie printed on paper and used collage and assemblage, using the drawers of a large cabinet of drawers to create a contemporary cabinet of curiosities.

Generate explored the life and theories of Charles Darwin. As well as lengths of digitally printed silk, Julie went through a painstaking process of hand-cutting circles from leave then arranging the dots on tapa cloth to create images based on Charles, his wife Emma, and grandfather Josiah Wedgwood. These ‘portraits’ use symbols from historical textiles to represent their subjects. From memory, the actual leaves with all their holes were arranged in a drift along the base of the display cabinets. There was also a glass ‘tree of life’ – glass branches and glass medallions incised with fantastic creatures. There are multiple depths of meaning – for example she used both native and exotic species of leaves “to show how cultures like introduced species react” (4).

Overall it seems to me that Julie’s work is heavily ideas and research driven with a disciplined, scientific approach. She is interested in what lies underneath, not obvious – often at the micro level. Frequently her subject matter is botanical or biological in nature. In most cases her work involves creating colour on cloth. Julie uses a mix of traditional and modern techniques and materials. However leaving those generalisations she seems to engage afresh with each new area that interest or opportunity leads her to. Julie brings all her past knowledge and experience and skills to her present work, but she doesn’t force them onto or into it. She researches and responds to what she learns, developing new themes, new symbolic imagery, new techniques and processes each time.

I’ve listed some links to more information on Julie and her work below.

(1) Koumis, M. (ed) (2007) Art Textiles of the World: Australia volume 2, Brighton: Telos Art Publishing
(2) (2005) Julie Ryder. Textile Fibre Forum, 80(4), Front and inside cover and page 10
(3) (2008) Generate: Julie Ryder. Exhibition leaflet. Australian National Botanic Gardens; ACT Government.
(4) Maher, L. (28 January, 2009) Darwin inspires art accessed 26-oct-2012

Further information accessed 26-oct-2012 accessed 26-oct-2012 accessed 26-oct-2012

Project 9 Stage 4 – part 2

See my post of 6-Nov-2012 for the initial work on this stage. It was fairly well progressed, but with a major question mark about how well I could create shapes in the planned scale of the weaving plus a big gap in process with no yarn wrapping done.
The first question was resolved pretty easily. I put on my cotton warp and did a quick, temporary sample with the yarn bundles already developed. The angular shaping I wanted worked quite well and with a fairly wide sett I was able to get good coverage of the warp with my yarn bundles. (I just left the un-needed warp ends pushed to the side).
Encouraged by this I went on to do a full yarn wrapping. This photo shows the original photo combination, the wrapping, plus a separate card to help me reproduce the yarn bundles. Clearly some of my colour mixes are quite different to the photo.
Maybe they didn’t match the printed photo, but what about the photo on my computer screen, other photos from the island, and most importantly colours in my head from having been there just a few weeks ago? There are different colours in a couple of the build-up sketches I did where I had stepped away from the original images into a more geometric arrangement. Add into all of that the colours that I think will look good together in a woven piece. My choice was to regard the photos as part of the inspiration and a guide, but not a “source of truth”. This turned out to be an ongoing battle during the weaving – holding on to my rather abstracted design and not reverting to a more literal approach.
The finished work is about 41cm by 12 cm. It’s irregular in shape, but that’s less apparent in real life. Also the orange areas at the bottom are strong but don’t shout as they do in the photo.
Generally I’ve been able to get the diagonal lines that I wanted. The image is more recognisable than I intended. I think the mixing of the yarns bundles worked well. At a distance there are clear blocks of colour (except for a mid-blue group in the middle below the point which is indistinguishable from the slightly darker blue to its left). Close up there is lots of interest when you can see the individual colours. Close or distant, the mixing provides good texture that works for both the granite and the water. I chose not to add any extra textural elements with soumak – it would have been out of scale and I think an awkward interruption to the main image. Plus it would be technically difficult – at times I had four weft bundles working at once, all creating different diagonals, and that was quite enough to think about.
It was interesting to experience the impact of the preparation process. The early part of the weaving went fairly easily, even though I was still learning technique. However I hadn’t fully resolved the shapes around the rockpool in any of my sketches, largely because I didn’t have the experience to know what I would find possible in practice. In the event I was able to get some nice shapes – in particular that triangle of blacks and greys coming in from the left.
The area near the top has a couple of horizontals, particularly the shore line of the distant island. This makes the work much more readable as an image and horizontals in the water were part of my original plan. On balance I like the variety it gives – but it would be interesting to see a version that continued diagonals throughout.
This photo shows the inspiration photo, the final work and the sketch which first showed me how I could use the inspiration in a piece of weaving. To me it illustrates a bit more clearly my reasons or process in moving quite far from the photo colours, particularly in the foreground granite and lichen.
The course notes have questions on specific areas of the project at this point.
* Variety of yarns and other materials, and impact on look and feel of samples.
In the early stages (posted 14-Oct-2012) I used a variety of “standard” yarns – wools, bundled yarns, fancy knitting yarns and torn strips of cloth. In my larger sample in stage 3 (posted 21-Oct-2012) I re-purposed materials from hardware and jewllery-findings stores, plus spun various papers and kitchen goods. My final sample from that stage (posted 26-Oct-2012) was largely newspaper, neoprene and insect screen. The sample from stage 4, shown in this post, returned to more traditional yarns – a wide variety of natural and man-made yarns bundled together. To my surprise weaving accepts, accommodates, tames and unifies them all. There is beautiful visual texture from the newspaper, forming my pebbly beach. Creating the yarn bundles above posed different challenges to spinning newspaper, but the results were just as effective in their own way in suggesting a rugged shoreline. In my weaving in the past the specific materials were critical – for example the combination of 20/2 silk and a laceweight Cashmerino (70% merino, 30% cashmere) in a deflected doubleweave scarf (posted 25-Oct-2009) to create a beautiful texture by taking advantage of their different properties in washing. I wouldn’t want to wash any of these new weavings!
* Weaving compared to other techniques.
This was not weaving-as-I-knew-it, but I still found it very enjoyable and absorbing. I love the whole idea of creating cloth; that the image or pattern is integral to the very substance of the result, not just added in or painted on. It seems more personal, more thoroughly an expression of my self. It could be seen as slow, but french knots are slower. It could be seen as repetitive, but especially with this style of weaving I was making decisions and watching for possibilities all the time – although in honesty I enjoy the repetitive, alert meditation of “standard” weaving. It has its limits, as does everything – for example I abandoned my ideas about grasses on a beach. I’m really looking forward to combining weaving with other techniques more.
* Aspects of the final sample.
The quick answer is that I like it very much. The proportions work well with the diagonal design and the depth of image that I wanted. I think the textures work well, and there is a variation that supports and enhances the design. The lumpy, uneven shape is distracting – a combination of poor technique and differences in thickness of the yarn bundles, plus my choice of equipment could be a factor. I wouldn’t want to change the yarn bundles, but better technique, experience and slowing down a bit could help. There’s an area just below the outcrop of rock where I intended different shapes, but my yarn choice was poor and two of the shapes merge. The fix there is clear! Also as mentioned above it would be interesting to try a version that stepped further from the original image into a more pure play of colour and angles.
* Design process.
It’s quite clear to me that I got a better result by attending to the design process. I did _not_ want to do the yarn wrapping. I felt I had done a few trials and that going further would be just a formality with no particular benefit. Instead I found it helped me to focus and identify problems in my initial yarn bundles. Based on the wrapping I made a number of improvements as I went. One that didn’t work was in the blue area already mentioned. With hindsight I should have done a second wrapping or adjusted the first until I was completely happy. At the time I felt I was getting stale and would loose enthusiasm for and interest in the actual weaving.
* Working from source material versus putting colours together intuitively.
In the past I have thought of a theme (say “hydrangeas”), looked through some photos, but made the actual yarn choices from memory and emotion rather than carefully analysing source material. In the final sample I enjoyed the hybrid approach (apart from concerns about not meeting the assignment brief). Careful experimentation and planning allowed me to refine choices and correct mistakes. That didn’t work entirely, but I think I prefer to risk a few mistakes (aka learning opportunities) rather than rigidly locking in choices and not having the flexibility to respond to the work in front of me. There were some colour problems in both my final sample and the seaweed/stoney beach sample – but I think experience will help me avoid similar problems in the future.
Re-reading the above, I see quite a bit of conflict in my responses. Do a second wrapping to refine colour choices, but risk errors to allow flexibility. Well, I’ve long thought that consistency is over-rated. More seriously, I feel there is enjoyment and risk in both approaches. I wouldn’t want to rule out either.

Exhibition: Double Take at the White Rabbit Gallery

Yesterday I visited the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before – one of the largest privately owned collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world, the entire four floors of exhibition space is rehung twice a year with a mixture of new acquisitions and other works from the collection.
Above is Level 1/2, Unit 8, Building 5, Hua Jiadi, North Village (2010) by Gao Rong. This is an extremely detailed re-creation of the entrance to the basement flat Gao Rong lived in as a student in Beijing.
Check the detail photo on the left – that’s just one of the rusty/flaky spots on the downpipe, all executed in hand embroidery. The entire scene is fabric and stitch. The attention to detail is stunning and the result very convincing. Meticulous and obsessive.
I believe this was Gao Rong’s exhibition piece as a student. The Gallery is also showing Station, a re-creation of the signs at the bus-stop she used. Earlier this year (blog post 27-Aug-2012) I saw a much more ambitious work based on her grandmother’s home which I found disappointingly incomplete. The subjects she has chosen are very personal, a record of places she has spent a lot of time. To me the original basement work is the most satisfying – complete and convincing. I wonder where she goes from here – larger meant that even with assistance it was impossible to achieve, certainly more realistic doesn’t seem possible.

Dust (2008) by Cong Lingqi is another example of epic detail. There are 210 tiny models of everyday items, each carefully handmade by the artist, suspended in a beam of light (although not the intended strong, focused beam just now – that light is under repair). The shadows are as important as the actual items, a dreamy memory. I haven’t included a distance shot showing the entire work, but the overall effect is light motes of dust moving hazily in a sunbeam. The whole effect is magical.
More and more I’m drawn to works which use shadows and light. Possibly not a safe choice for an artist – even in a very well setup gallery like White Rabbit there can be glitches in special requirements. Another aspect of particular interest to me is the way this work has coherence and meaning as a whole, and also richly rewards close inspection. That’s a recurring challenge for textile work.

The works shown above and the one on the left are identical – the only difference is the manner of display.
Paper (2010) by Li Hongbo is accurately titled – it’s paper, two very large stacks of paper that the artist has carved with an electric saw. The information plaque at the gallery describes it as “rigorously rule-based construction enabling a near-total liberation of form”.
One interesting thing is that the artist leaves it to the curator to decide how to present the work. Another issue is the fragility of the material – something I commented on briefly with another of Li Hongbo’s works that was shown on Cockatoo Island during the biennale (post 8-Sept-2012). The guide at White Rabbit was quite relaxed about it. A number of times they’ve come in of a morning and found an arm dropped off or similar. They just repair it. Simple.

In this last work I am back to full size and meticulous detail – although this time not something you could mistake for the real thing.
This is Shi Jindian’s Beijing Jeep’s Shadow (2007). It’s made in wire in a technique he describes as crochet. Apparently each individual element in the piece is made around an actual jeep part to get the exact shaping, then the part is removed leaving a steel wire lace.
All the works I photographed are large, detailed and obviously took an enormous commitment and effort to create. Sometimes working in textiles I’ve been conscious of the time taken, the repetitive process. How important is that time and input? A pleasurable activity (mostly) – but does quantity of time spent mean more than that? Should it?

Project 9 Stage 4 process check

It was interesting to hear how important Process is in Ruark Lewis’s work (blog post 4-Nov-2012). It’s also very important in the OCA course – we not only have to produce work, we have to show our design process and the decisions we’ve made to reach our final product. Actually I think the word “process” has extra nuances that I don’t yet understand.

I’ve been working on this final stage of Project 9 for a couple of weeks now and have yet to touch the loom. I’ve changed tack a few times, and feel the need to take stock of the process so far, check that I’m happy with my choices and (not un-importantly!) check that what I’m doing meets the project requirements.

The task is to develop design ideas into weaving of a large sample piece. Two approaches are given:
Approach 1: Analyse colour, texture and proportion in source material or sketch(see post 7-Sept-2012 at the beginning of this Assignment to see my past attempts at that). Make a yarn wrapping. Develop into stripes on graph paper. Weave. Of course there’s lots more detail / suggestions / instructions / guidance than that.
Approach 2: A more intuitive approach. Select a word – exotic, tribal, rural… Make a storyboard of images. Select areas, thinking about colour, proportions, energy. Select yarns and make a wrapping. Add to mood board, adjust until it expresses the mood of your chosen word. Plan and sequence roughly. Weave to interpret the ideas and express the mood of the word.

I had enjoyed working with the photo of seaweed in the previous stage (see post 26-Oct-2012), so decided to use “coastal” as my theme word.

Of course there’s a lot of different “coastal”, and at first I wanted to stay on the same beach on King Island. To keep it fresh and different I left the seaweed and moved focus to the water and especially some grasses.

So I did a little sketching of the grasses, and tried out some yarns that might work, and pinned them up with photos and other bits and pieces I thought could work in a mood board. I liked the idea of horizontal stripes of colour and texture in the sand, sea, distant island and sky, but I wanted to get that movement and interest of grass across the image or at least some kind of graphic element based on them that would add an extra layer of interest. I dug out weaving books and samples, was wondering how far I could stretch danish medallions, how else to get diagonal lines… then realised not only was I getting lost in technicalities of weaving, but weaving really isn’t the right process or technique for the image in my head, or at least be only one component of it. Plus it would be a nice change to have some more colour. Time to step back and regroup.

Going through photos from my recent trip (blog post 7-Oct-2012) I was struck by the ones above from Flinders Island. Although the colours look quite different, they were taken maybe 100 metres and 15 minutes apart.
A quick sketch (badly photographed in late afternoon light last weekend) looked promising. I liked the combination of colours and the level of abstraction.

I used gimp to combine elements of the two photos, then drew a more careful plan for the potential weaving. (Sorry, another poor photo).

Earlier in Stage 1 I really liked the effect I got when using a dozen or so fine threads of similar colours together (post 14-Oct-2012). I could create different bundles for each shape, and use more textured yarns in the closer areas to help suggest some depth and change through the weaving without being too literal.
Which has brought me to a worktable covered in yarn candidates, some sample yarn bundles, and a series of mood boards taking over a corner of the room.

So the current plan is:
* long thin warp, a smooth cotton and fiddle with sett to get good coverage by weft
* yarn bundles following colours in combined photo. Boucles and thicker yarns, mostly matt (wools etc) in close rocks. Finer, smoother yarns behind and more shine. Little or no wool in water.
* Maybe a few extra bits of yarns here and there – eg for waves
* Limited additional texture in the actual weaving – mostly plain weave, perhaps a bit of soumak or bumps over a knitting needle here and there.
* I’d like to get the shapes in my drawing, but may not be able to make them sharp and the slopes nice given the scale of the weaving. If necessary I will change to stripes, but follow proportions and colours as planned. Either way I’m planning horizontal bands for the water and sky – it fits with the image better and provides a contrast the the angular rocks.

Writing this has confirmed my suspicion that I haven’t followed either of the suggested processes, it’s been more of a mixture. However I feel I have analysed colour, texture and proportions and I have selected at least some of the yarns, I have a fairly clear plan (and backup plan) for the actual weaving, and I have mood board(s) in progress. The one thing that was emphasised in both approaches that I haven’t done is a careful yarn wrapping. I’m hesitating because I want to see my first bundle or two on the loom – I don’t want to commit to creating a full set until I know if I need to adjust size and composition of bundles to get the effect I want in the weaving.

I feel quite encouraged by this review, and confident that I’ve done enough to be able to warp and start weaving. For an extra layer of mood board, I’ll finish with a few more photos taken on the very beautiful Trousers Point on Flinders Island. The rock is actually an apricot coloured granite, with bands of orange lichen. Many of the views are across the waters of Franklin Sound, to the mountains of Cape Barren Island.


Exhibition – Ruark Lewis

My friend and fellow student Claire wrote about this exhibition on her blog – I followed her link to the Hazelhurst Gallery, and to cut the story short, we met up last Sunday for an artist talk and performance in the gallery (plus bonus of wandering through the Gymea street fair together).

Photos were permitted during the performance, so on the left you get a glimpse of a small part of the exhibition. Ruark talked about the importance of process and pattern in his work. A recurring process has been making, fairly quickly, a series of marks – notations to music, positions of cities, skewed perspective lying in a hospital bed etc. He then refines the marks, meticulously working in graphite or other materials to make thickened lines or visual bars, creating a patterned surface that is not representational but still often captures the original moment or thought.

One thing that struck me was the long gestation of ideas and projects. Ruark would talk about conversations and possibilities that could swirl around for years before there was finally the opportunity to create the work – or recreate, with materials being reused and repurposed. I like the sense of awareness of the world and openness. For example the frames in the back of the photo above were used in a previous performance and installation. While dismantling the exhibition the packers stacked the frames together – and now, here they are.

Ruark’s work often has a philosophical and/or political as well as collaborative element. The second photo shows his fellow performer (unfortunately I haven’t been able to find her name), who moved around the gallery creating connections with yarn while Ruark spoke in performance – sometimes quotes from politicians or others (“I’m not a racist but…”), sometimes what I think is called glossalia – a waterfall of non-words and trills and syllables. It seemed to cover a huge range of recent political issues, and there was clearly a plan and structure in what they were doing, but although sympathetic to or sharing many of what I gleaned to be Ruark’s politics, there was just too much I didn’t understand. You probably can’t see in the photo that the performer was holding a shell in her mouth. I missed the significance and was just left bewildered.

The work that has remained in my mind was based on points and connections between cities. Thinking of my theme work on ageing and the contraction of space and choice moving from one’s house to a room in a nursing home, I wonder if it would be possible to create two maps, showing the scope of Nancy’s movements over a day pottering around her home and garden, and now virtually bed-bound in the nursing home.

This brings me back to Dion Horstmans’ work which I saw this weekend in sculpture by the sea (blog post 2-Nov-2012). That is obviously in three dimensions, and according to the catalogue “map time and space to reference the landing on earth’s moon”. I don’t know how I could take these ideas into the theme work, how to show the very different scales of movement and also how to make the textile element important.

While doing a little research for this post I discovered that some earlier work by Ruark is very relevant. In My Empty House was an installation in 2010 which followed the process of the emptying of a house, a home, due to the ageing and changing needs of the occupants. A very helpful essay by Melissa Laing comments on the importance of the home as a repository, the possessions that help to create and preserve identity. Destructive forces such as ageing can be followed by liberation – but not for Nancy, the focus of my work. Nancy has been denied choice, denied the capacity to act. Yet another line of research I need to follow up.

There’s quite a bit of information around at the moment that’s relevant to my theme. Euthanasia and the availability and cost of palliative care are both current topics in State Parliament, with a Dying with Dignity Parliament forum on 19th November (unfortunately clashing with work times). On a personal level Nancy, the initial focus and emotional centre of my work, has been very unwell and we think had another stroke (she has refused medical attention). It seems very possible that Nancy will die while I am working on this theme for the final Assignment. I rather dread the thought, but I would not delay her liberation for a moment. It’s now over three years since she was forcibly denied her right to die. I will be sad for myself, but so very happy for her when the time finally comes.

Resources Accessed 4-Nov-2012.
Dying with Dignity NSW ,

Laing, M. “In My Empty House — Ruark Lewis with Loma Bridge” In Studies in Material Thinking, Vol. 5 (December 2011), ISSN 1177-6234, AUT University. Accessed 4-Nov-2012

Paull, J. (2012) Ruark Lewis: Survey 1982 – 2012 exhibition brochure, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre

sculpture by the sea: sixteenth annual exhibition Bondi 2012 Catalogue and site map. Sculpture by the Sea Incorporated.

Sculpture by the sea

Today I visited sculpture by the sea with my mother and sister. This is the 16th year of the annual exhibition – you can see some photos from last year here (15-Nov-2011).
Ghost net crocodile was the most textile-y piece I saw (there are over 100 items in the exhibition, spread over a large area, so I could easily have missed others).
The photos don’t give a good idea of the scale – that croc is over 10 metres long. I hadn’t heard of “ghost nets” before. They are part of the marine debris floating around in the the oceans, old lost or deliberately abandoned fishing nets. The nets foul the ocean and coastline, and are a danger to marine life. Ghosts Nets Australia is an alliance of indigenous communities in northern Australia who care for their country through a range of projects including retrieval of nets and recycling/reuse.
Another work that made use of discarded rubbish is Jane Gillings’ midden. There must be thousands of pieces of plastic picnic cutlery, collected over time from rubbish piles. There was wonderful texture and movement in the piece, and it’s easy to see it in stitching – like seed stitch in a way, but grouped and aligned to work as a mass.
Poom by Staccato (a group of students from Chung-Ang University, South Korea) is a steel frame filled with used clothes. Going inside you could view messages from other visitors, words of hope to refugees. I gather the plan is to reuse the clothing after the exhibition, although perhaps only as rags after their exposure to the elements.

One of the things we’re meant to do as students is relate works in exhibitions to our work. Here there’s obviously a trivial level of colour mixing and texture (french knots on a large scale?). The idea of textiles as protection and shelter is more significant, the importance of textiles to human survival throughout history. The senses of continuity and connection are important parts of the attraction of textiles for me.

I love the directness of the message in this work by Dave Mercer – although checking the catalogue I see my interpretation didn’t quite match. I was thinking of the way corporations brand and appropriate community resources. The artist statement refers to the validation and importance that branding can give. I don’t think this view needs branding to be appreciated!
Here you can see my sister Rachel enjoying the view assisted by another sculpture, came back by Hiroaki Nakayama.
The thumbnail gives an idea of the outlook. These massive pieces of black granite stand in a wonderful relationship with the landscape. The catalogue includes some detail on Nakayama’s approach, and I am particularly drawn to the respect he gives to his materials, not challenging it but conscious of retaining its essence. Those ideas fit well with my interest in craftsmanship and the thought, care and respect I value in working (see post of 1-Nov-2012, especially comments on Ann Richards’ book).
This is part of mirador, by Rachel Couper and Ivana Kuzmanovska. This large dome is timber on the outside and a reflective material (perspex??) on the interior. In my photo I’ve carefully excluded the human element and focused on the framing of that view, but from the catalogue I gather that the artists intended reflections of the viewer to act as a commentary on the complex relationship between ourselves and nature.
With my textile hat on, ideas about layering, revealing and concealing, and contrasts of scale and material come to mind. I like the regularity of the dome’s structure imposed on the more chaotic natural world.

More reflections, this time kaleidoscope cube by Alex Ritchie. This cube of polished aluminium casts shadows as well as reflecting light and its surroundings. The shapes are simple and repetitive but the result is visually complex and varied. You might need to click on the photo for a larger view to see it, but it’s a surprise to see the sandstone cliff reflected with the sea behind. It would be interesting to see this work on a stormy day – I wonder how the light would change.
It’s interesting to go through my photos – it’s only now as I write this post that I see some common threads in the works I chose to photograph. This is m . 120901 by Toshio Iezumi, a stunning column of float glass, mirror and stainless steel.
Once again there is reflection and distortion, and I would very much like to see this in different weather and lighting. (Rae, if you’re reading this it would look most wonderful at your home, and then I could come and visit lots 🙂 ). Complex simplicity. Beautiful.
Repose by R.M. (Ron) Gomboc looks like a frozen moment, balanced and at rest. It was interesting to see something so matt and non-reflecting, and the contrast between that tranquility and the ceaseless movement and pounding of the waves below.
These works by Dion Horstmans are part of a series moonfire lm, using abstract geometrics to map time and space. In my mind they relate to some work by Ruarc Lewis I saw last weekend. I need to write about that, since it started a new train of enquiry for my theme work on Ageing and the contraction of Nancy’s physical space. Hopefully that post will come later this weekend.
A couple more of the sculptures to finish off. This is spinal column by Michael Purdy, and according to the catalogue is about growth. That’s it. No great explanation, no deep and meaningful or (alternatively) humour really. “Just” a very interesting and expressive shape beautifully executed.
April, cherry blossoms by Koichi Ishino has both the granite and the reflections that attracted me today. That line between the granite and the stainless steel is wonderful. To have it reflected in the “table” section together with the clouds today – very lovely indeed. There’s a quote from a newspaper in the catalogue which seems to me entirely unrelated to the piece, so I have no idea what is meant to be going on. There are curves and repeated shapes and hard lines – and how do such hard materials give a sense of fragility and lightness?
Finally, transition by Greer Taylor. It looks as if someone has taken a ruler and a couple of pens and drawn on this photo. The colours and shapes seem so out of place in the landscape.
…Having typed that I noticed that in the catalogue the work was shown with the sea and horizon in the background, so I’ve added a thumbnail which at least shows a little horizon. That straight line makes me see the work differently. Interesting – the importance of links between elements. The artists statement includes “…the roundness of the earth becomes a horizon”, so it seems that aspect of the setting is intentionally significant.

sculpture by the sea: sixteenth annual exhibition Bondi 2012 Catalogue and site map. Sculpture by the Sea Incorporated. Accessed 2-Nov-2012


Research point: Designers and Designer/Makers

This post follows on from those about Craft (18-Aug-2012 and 20-Aug-2012), textiles in Art as distinct from Textile Art (27-Aug-2012) and a side-excursion on Art / Textile Art / Documentary (22-Oct-2012). I don’t have any particular photographs of textile designs or designers, so the images in this post are of sketchbook work I did while reading two of the texts in the course reading list – Textile designers at the cutting edge (1) and Textiles Now (2) (also in my sketchbook starting 29-Sept-2012).

After searching for quite a time, I haven’t found a single, concise, comprehensive definition of “design”. To design is to create a plan or specification for an outcome or product. There’s generally a functional aspect and there may be aesthetic considerations. Often a design will be produced in multiples or mass production, in different colour-ways and design variations. The production work could be by hand, machine, or a combination. Sometimes good design will go unnoticed, the item performing its function as expected. We’ve all experienced negatives from poor design. For example I once had an electric kettle, a simple and plain shape except for some decorative grooves along the length of the handle – which channeled the steam into your hand while pouring the boiling water.

A designer may work in multiple disciplines. Their skills and interests lead them to collaborate and develop relationships with makers and industry to produce their designs. Alison Page is an Australian indigenous designer who has won a place in the British Council’s Accelerate program. Experienced in design for interiors and jewellery, Page is interested in working with manufacturers of textiles, carpets, lighting, or many other kinds of product. Her vision is about qualities of the design – beautiful, sustainable, and a spiritual layer telling a story about her indigenous culture.(3) Lucy Simpson is another Australian indigenous designer, telling the stories of her Yuwaalaraay family and homeland through textiles. Previously a graphic designer she now designs printed textiles for her campany Gaawaa Miyay working with Publisher Textiles to produce her designs. The tactile nature of textiles, the connection to memory that touch can give, is important to Simpson, as are beauty and sustainability (4). There are some interesting videos of Simpson talking about her work in the article cited (here) and on the Gaawaa Miyay site (here).

Designers may or may not have specific knowledge of and skills in the particular media and techniques used to carry out their designs. A designer/maker will implement the designs they have created. They can develop a deep understanding of their materials and processes, leading to designs that take advantage of all their best properties. That doesn’t negate the possibility for pushing further, introducing new ideas and challenging accepted norms.

In Weaving textiles that shape themselves Ann Richards devotes the final chapter to “Designing as a conversation” (6). In this design is presented as a reflexive practice in which the designer responds and adapts to the material, ready to learn from setbacks, to seek fresh ideas and challenges and to see the design emerge and improve through the process. Richards presents a general process for beginning and developing a design, but her specific focus is the considerations and specifics of weaving. The depth of knowledge, the thought, care and respect shown for materials, product and process is inspiring. The many beautiful photographs of examples help too!

I’ve already presented my end position – that today individuals regularly cross boundaries and combine and interleave different roles as designers, artists, craftspeople and more, working alone, with assistants, or in collaboration (blog post 22-Oct-2012). This week I got a new book in the post (well, a few new books, but one that is relevant just now). In her Foreword to One work: Sheila Hicks at The Mint Kathleen Jameson writes “…this one work is an outstanding example of the cross-pollination in the fields of art, craft, and design that is so pervasive in 21st-century artistic practice. In choosing thread and textiles as her medium, since the late 1950s Hicks has worked both as an artist and a designer, moving nimbly between the two worlds, decades before they overlapped more eloquently.” (5) I believe that boundaries in work descriptions and practices are much more fluid than in the past. Artists/designers/craftspeople in particular need to be flexible, creating and taking opportunities to make work, to find audiences and to make a living. We are, I hope, near the end of a period of adjustment when institutions and individuals in the field were coming to grips with this change and the implications. I’m not suggesting the old categories are meaningless or useless. They remain one component helping us work in and make sense of a complex environment – descriptive, but not proscriptive.

I wrote the above a few days ago but it didn’t seem finished. On re-reading I can see some flaws in my argument.

First, it might seem that I’m expecting everyone to balance multiple hats and to move between modes and types of work freely. Not at all. The answers and choices that are right for me will be different to another’s choices. I’m arguing against artificial boundaries, or the arbitrary rules of some Authority.

Second, how does my concern for the preservation of craft fit in this? Certainly I feel concern about possible loss of knowledge and skills, and I am uncomfortable with the idea of designers-for-hire, who will turn their hand to any type of product in any type of materials. There’s more in my post of 16-Sept-2011 on Preserving Crafts. More thinking required.

Finally, perhaps I am over-enthusiastic and just wrong. There may be some who have been able to cross boundaries, but that doesn’t mean that boundaries aren’t still current and enforced elsewhere or for other people. I have no answer to that. There will be lots of different experiences, and change doesn’t happen all at once. Time may tell.

(1) Quinn, B. (2004) Textile Designers at the cutting edge London:Laurence King Publications
(2) Cole, D. (2008) Textiles Now London: Laurence King Publishing
(3) Frew, W. (2012). The rise of the allegorist in Australian design. The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 October, p. 13.
(4) Safe, G., 2012. Indigenous flair with feeling. The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 September. Link Accessed 27 October 2012
(5) Jameson, K., 2012. Foreword. In: One work: Sheila Hicks at The Mint. Charlotte: Mint Museum of Art, Inc, p. 9.
(6) Richards, A. (2012) Weaving textiles that shape themselves Marlborough: The Crowood Press Ltd

Other resources
British Council Accelerate


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November 2012

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