Artifact

Definition of artifact

1a: a usually simple object (such as a tool or ornament) showing human workmanship or modification as distinguished from a natural object
especiallyan object remaining from a particular period
b: something characteristic of or resulting from a particular human institution, period, trend, or individual
c: something or someone arising from or associated with an earlier time especially when regarded as no longer appropriate, relevant, or important
2a: a product of artificial character (as in a scientific test) due usually to extraneous (such as human) agency
b: an electrocardiographic and electroencephalographic wave that arises from sources other than the heart or brain
c: a defect in an image (such as a digital photograph) that appears as a result of the technology and methods used to create and process the image
Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/artifact (my highlighting)

I’ve been wondering what I’m doing here – a question so big and so vague it’s close to useless. Part of the answer is that I like making: the process of working with my hands and mind and skills, tools, materials; to create something that didn’t exist before and in its small way is unique; to express myself; to connect with myself and others; to help me think. The thinking part keeps growing in importance. There’s the meditative aspect, especially with the rhythm and repetition of my preferred additive processes, keeping the hands and front of the brain busy while the mind quests. Plus there’s a focusing effect, with a conscious effort to use making as a way of extending my research, and the attempt to express abstract ideas in physical form. More and more an object at the ends seems to be a by-product of the process rather than its goal or purpose.

The dual meanings of artifact fit well. And what I’m doing here in the blog, in part, is documenting my artifacts – the objects, ideas, and making. The ratios will vary of course. This post, as you’ve already seen, is on the wordy ideas side.

Layered grief
It looks better in person

Background

A year ago mum had been discharged from the palliative care hospital. Just a few days left, with a lot of laughter and love mixed in with the rest. I still think of her through each day. Sometimes it’s the stab of loss. Or relief that she had most of what she wished for when diagnosed – a final summer with family and friends; to die at home. I’m glad she didn’t have to go through the winter of lockdown. I miss chatting with her – her advice, her opinions on all things large and small, gossip. She was my most vocal and unstinting supporter. And I miss the sense of purpose and value and meaning of supporting her. I hate the lurch when I vaguely think that I haven’t phoned her in a while, then remember why. I miss her smile, the pleasure it gave her, when she opened the door to me. I miss the example she gave of taking simple joy in the world, curious and interested – watching children playing, chatting with workers on their smoko, enjoying the joke of chalked signs in the park.

I’m glad to miss mum. I’m glad to grieve for her. I’m so lucky to have experienced such love, to have known such a person. It’s right and human to honour her and our relationship.

Ideas

Perhaps with time and distance I will see some pattern, some kind of stages in grieving. At the moment I see – feel – complexity and change and repetition-with-variation and layering and unexpected connections. Perhaps a rhizomic rather than linear thing (“structure” seems too strong a word). Is that something I could express in clay?

Memory is an integral part of grieving. My most recent attempt at expressing that was shown 14-Jan-2022.

My notes when beginning to plan this new experiment:

  • extension of distorted memory
  • clearer use of stencil
  • ?dark “Victorian mourning” cane
    • use as background
    • simplified stencil in gloss (?? possible?) black?
    • don’t like link of black to mourning, but works visually
    • peering into the past, overlaying present.
  • a larger, mixed bowl, or a series of cupped hands?

Making

The clay. Once again I used leftovers and oddments from previous work.

Victorian mourning
28-Sept-2021
including build-up and mop-up material
Grief, hope, energy, renewal
28-Oct-2021

I focused on using as much of the clay as possible, laying out slices in a pattern, then filling in the gaps with a cane of scraps of the scraps (a Fiona Abel-Smith technique)

In the photo above the burnished disc of clay is on a sheet of Agreena wrap. Made of silicone, it’s sold as a non-toxic, renewable, recyclable alternative to clingfilm. It’s heavy enough to be able to carry the weight of the clay, thin enough to peel off easily, and is oven-safe. All very handy working with polymer clay.

I didn’t like my placement of the feathers cane at this point, but hoped it would be toned down in the next stage.

Stencilling. The John Chester Jervis jug stencils were used again (last seen 14-Jan-2022) – there is a strong link to the Victorian mourning conventions work. My largest  handheld round embroidery frame was slightly too small. On my larger ThimbleLady lap quilting frame the fabric was not held as firmly, and it was difficult to access everywhere, but worth it I think to avoid moving a frame around and having edges rest on the print. Stencilling was done in opaque black liquid clay.

stencil placement
improvised silkscreen
Left: paper cut stencils in place. Right: stencilled clay

A high level comparison shows the stencilling worked quite well. I’ll go through some caveats later.

Baking. The clay was lifted and placed in a metal bowl, in a “sling” of agreena wrap. That is, it didn’t touch the bottom, the bowl acting as a general support rather than forming the shape. Sausages of foil were used to create an unevenly undulating form, to suggest the distortions and selection that creep into even our most precious memories over time.

Fresh from the oven. The clay slipped down slightly during baking, but didn’t touch the bottom of the metal bowl.

Artifact

The final outcome is one of the largest vessels I’ve made in the past year of mourning – around 19 cm in diameter, and a pleasant weight in the hand. I love the layers of connection – to mum and our family history, to various lines of research, to my ongoing life and explorations. I like the sinuous edge, and that the bowl is open – inviting, accepting.

The underside came off the agreena wrap with a pleasant shine. It’s bright and busy, but in my eyes visually coherent. Even those feathers look better, in their place like a trim on a skirt, linking clearly with the canes in the middle section above.

The interior is more complex. It is intriguing when held in the hands, moved around to catch the light and to follow lines of pattern. However…

  • the areas of liquid clay are very textured, even after light sanding and polishing. I think this is a side effect of the slightly looser organza screen, moving up and down as I dabbed on the liquid clay. I didn’t want to sand further and start losing stencilled areas altogether.
  • in most areas the “opaque” black still allows the shadow of changing pattern below. Very on theme. However there is a lot of black in the base layer, leading to a visual muddle on what is foreground and what background, impacting the integrity of the silhouettes.
  • The pattern of cane placement is obscured, creating a visual jarring effect in places where different input canes join.
  • on the plus side and ignoring those limitations, the boundary between foreground and background is crisp in all but the smallest detail areas.

As it is, with all the associations it has for me – I am satisfied, happy, when I handle, examine, spend time with the bowl. I’ve learnt in the process. There’s still a way to go in making a stencilled pattern on a busy cane ground work, but I’m getting closer and I have ideas for more tweaks.

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