Rather than repeat previous posts, I’ve had a go at selecting the phrases from the Level 2 Assessment Criteria that I think most accurately describe my work for this assignment. It will be interesting to return to this in a couple of weeks with a bit of distance and my tutor’s comments:
Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (35%)
Mostly C – competent techniques but good on design and composition and good on materials and observation (B)
Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%)
Between B and C – competent communication of ideas and presentation (C); good discernment and conceptualisation (B); consistency in judgment (B);
Demonstration of creativity – experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (25%)
B – very good synthesis of analytical and creative thinking, taking risks, discernment in moving forwards, imaginative outcomes; evidence of a developing personal voice
To conclude Part Four, reflect upon what you’ve learnt through the project. This is about your approach and management of the project more than the work itself (so you aren’t repeating the evaluation conducted in Exercise 4.5). Consider: • how your understanding of the art textiles context has developed during the project • your handling and application of colour through both drawing and sampling • the quality, diversity and playfulness of your practical sampling • your use of drawing throughout • which ways of thinking and making you are strongest in and what you need to work on in future projects. Write around 500 words and include this, clearly labelled, in your learning log.
My main aims in developing my practice during this assignment were:
to push beyond my comfort zone while still producing work that feels ‘authentic’
learning to ‘see’ my own work critically and therefore make better judgments about moving forwards at each stage; making less but with better clarity
focus on expressing not communicating – something Rebecca Fairley talked about at an OCA North meeting in November – shifting my focus slightly from trying to communicate an idea to other to expressing my ideas in a way that feels true to me; for me this particularly means finding processes and materials that feel authentic and meaningful.
to continue to develop my confidence/boldness in handling colour
I feel I’ve made progress in each of these areas. In Assignments 2 and 3 I felt my sketchbook work really developed well but in 2 I lacked the confidence to stick with my ‘authentic’ ideas and pushed on into a less productive area (digital design); in 3 I panicked about the quantity of ideas I was generating and got lost, not producing much of impact by the end of the unit. In 4 I have tried to balance all of these elements by being more mindful and clearer throughout, exploring ideas in my sketchbook but keeping clear lines of connection to the original theme and making slower, more considered decisions about how to move forward.
This has meant producing fewer samples towards the end – only 3 or 4 pieces and only 2 that are presented as ‘refined’. This might be criticised at assessment, especially as the sculptural piece in particular relies on photographic visualisations to show potential (something I was criticised for in IAP). However, I’m happy to take that risk at this stage as I feel the benefit is the clarity with which my work has developed, so that there is plenty of experimentation but also a clear line of development. Drawing and moving between materials has been crucial here; for example, I have explored the direction and qualities of the ‘red line’ in collage, casting, stitch and paint. Moving between materials and interpreting ‘drawing’ loosely like this has been liberating for me. I’ve referred back to my planned palette and proportions of colour, though this hasn’t been a priority – more instinctive than planned.
Working with greater intention and clarity has avoided the problem I had in 3 of having too many ideas and working too broadly without bringing it to a resolution within the given time scale. In this assignment I’ve made far fewer samples (and filled only 1 sketchbook rather than 2) but I genuinely feel that each step forward, each drawing and sample has been based on more mindful reflection than I’ve managed before. As a result, there seem to be clear lines of enquiry throughout 4.1 to the end, some of which I’ve discarded along the way and others which appear in the final pieces. I have also felt fully engaged with the concept and samples as a result of taking time for drawing and reflection. This is something to carry forward into 5.
The other area where I feel I’ve made real progress is in selection of processes and materials and authenticity, which is of course related to this slower, more mindful process. I started with only the brief to myself to try processes I hadn’t yet used in CC. The machine stitch in particular was a huge surprise to me, as was the ‘tapestry’ form, but both genuinely grew out of my sketchbook work and research. Particularly effective has been my attempt to make practical responses to artist research ie trying to make work that uses similar materials and processes (almost sampling ‘in the style of’) to really investigate what makes an artist’s work unique eg Alice Kettle’s use of stitch. I also used the list of questions I wrote for myself earlier in the course as a touchstone in my sketchbook:
I have become excited about materials again in this assignment and really played with the qualities of textile and non-textile materials – using the red plastic for its clarity and freshness but collaged fabric for the ‘grey’ areas, for example, was a reversal of what I’d expected initially. This has taken me well out of ‘craft’ applications of textile techniques on the whole, but I was interested to play with machine stitch and explore how to locate my work closer to the Alice Kettle than the Dionne Swift end of the art-craft spectrum.
As I said in the previous post, the main weakness in this assignment has been the technical quality and realisation of the ‘final’ samples. The machine stitched ‘tapestry’ piece proved so time consuming that I couldn’t complete it in the time, though I think enough is stitched to illustrate where it’s heading. It is also annoyingly distorted; as this became apparent I took the decision to continue rather than start again to make sure I could get plenty done to send to my tutor. My priority was to try working at scale so in a way this has been useful learning; I do feel I’ve broken free of the bounds of my desk – and faced the practical challenges of this (space, the time it takes to stitch on this scale, display) as well as the excitement of it.
With the concrete sample the issue was more the impracticality of creating a larger version and therefore relying on digital imagery to show how it might work. I’m not sure this will be sufficient for assessment; I will ask for my tutor’s advice on this. However, I included it as my ‘final’ sample as I find it really exciting – trying not to make the same mistake as Assignment 2 where I dismissed the screenprinted samples I really liked as they seemed too insubstantial (ie quick to make). This concrete piece was quite quick to create; however, the process of arriving at it was quite a long and considered one via trying a wide range of alternative media and processes. I’m just not sure if I’ve evidenced this sufficiently for assessment.
As ever, I’m left with a list of ideas not (yet) explored:
more resolved sculptural samples; more concrete and plastic
film – I made a very exciting short video of the red plastic ‘unwrapping’ itself from inside its fabric bounds (pic below) that has lots of potential
more technically challenging ideas eg wrapping the balloon in concrete – I just couldn’t figure out how to take this forward, but I will keep mulling it over.
Other possible directions include: radical embroidery and public art.
Task: Evaluate your samples and the visualisations of them. Select the one or two images that you feel best use your design and seem most likely to result in a successful outcome if you created the work. Discuss your work in relation to examples of contemporary art textiles, and the context (e.g. type of gallery, exhibition or site) you see the work being shown in.
Sample 1: machine stitched ‘tapestry’
4.5 final sample 1 machine stitch: detail
4.5 final sample 1 machine stitch: detail
4.5 final sample 1 machine stitch: detail
On the whole the sample is effective in expressing the energy and hopefulness of the ‘Protest’ theme; at the moment the stitching is incomplete and the piece above is intended as a sample of how it would work once complete. I think the stitching is particularly effective – it has good energy. The blue/grey areas create a very strong, active surface that expresses the power and force of the institutions that oppress people. This is reinforced by the blocky, linear nature of the collage and stitch and by the use of layering that covers the surface and, in places, the red. the red stitch is expressed as a fluid line, almost like a river, suggesting the passion and energy of the human urge to resist oppression. Incorporating plastic netting that sticks up above the surface adds to this. The overall composition references the narrative convention of the tapestry form, reading left to right; however, I haven’t incorporated elements of figurative imagery, unlike the artists like Alice Kettle and Grayson Perry that I researched. I have made some exploratory drawings to see how this might work and at the moment it feels too obvious a reference to the protest movements and graffiti; I wanted to suggest the passion that drives people to protest rather than the specifics of any particular campaign.
The main limitation of the sample is the technical quality; the stitching is deliberately haphazard and improvisatory but has caused the substrate to bunch and gather. In places I’ve been able to incorporate this into the stitching and if I finished the whole surface it would be less obvious but at the moment it detracts from the overall impact especially in the photo where the shadows are really evident.
The ideal placement for this piece would be as a site-specific piece mounted, for example, in the entrance hall of a political or campaigning organisation. This references public art and protest art and could make explicit or implicit reference to the business in the selected building. An external placement would be possible if the issue of weather-proofing could be addressed. Alternatively the piece would be placed as a gallery piece, displayed in a conventional way on a white wall; this would have closer parallels with work by artists such as Grayson Perry and traditional fine art as well as Tracey Emin-style stitched work. In the visualisations below I have experimented with adding a title.
I think the public building placements are much more exciting and relevant to this piece; a ‘protest’ in such a place is much more likely to be heard than in the silence of a gallery and the audience will be much broader and more numerous. It is interesting to see how a stitched piece sits against the hard, man-made surfaces of the buildings; I have seen numerous examples of textile ‘banners’ inside buildings and the handmade, tactile nature of the piece draws the eye (and potentially the hands) in a potentially sterile, impersonal space. I personally find the exterior placement more effective – inside, the tapestry feels like decoration whereas outside it is more unexpected and therefore arresting. For this, it might need translating in to non-textile materials or encasing in a waterproof frame. Placing it lower down the wall would also allow the viewer to see details.
Sample 2: concrete and plastic ‘installation’
This sample evolved from a series of drawings and samples expressing how the voice of protest (the red plastic) can force its way through any attempt at oppression (the concrete). The mottled and pitted surface of the concrete suggests a harsh but flawed attempt at control; the variation in texture and colour was accidental but in fact activates the surface more than a plain grey would as well as suggesting a potential ‘way in’ for any protest. The colour of the plastic is very effective; the red suggests passion and power without any ‘blood’ connotations due to the angular shapes. I am a little uneasy with the implied violence of the ‘blade’ form of the spikes; however, this is mitigated by the fluid placement, in a ‘river’ formation, and by the variation of size and angle. The organic diagonal implied line hints at an ‘underground’ force flowing and breaking out in places. I was particularly surprised by how intuitive the making process felt; as I placed the red fragments in the semi-set concrete it felt like drawing; the smaller fragments sank and seemed quite vulnerable to being lost while the larger pieces felt quite forceful – this connects with my aim to make a piece that expressed how I felt about protesting – ie that it isn’t easy, can be precarious but in the end is an almost unstoppable urge.
I created visualisations in different ‘fine art’ settings. My preferred version (below) is the outside ‘walkway’ as this allowed me to visualise really large scale pieces and to use natural light – this lights up the red with a ‘glowing’ quality that enhances the sense of power and could excite/inspire the viewer to think about protesting. The gallery floor visualisation is more subtle but I like the way that it stretches ahead of the viewer, as into the future, suggesting a journey or narrative. The wall-mounted version is more aggressive and uneasy, more like something fighting its way out. The editing of the image isn’t very well executed and would be more powerful with additional lighting to cast shadows and illuminate the red.
Final sample 2: concrete and plastic – gallery floor
Final sample 2: concrete and plastic – walkway outside
Final sample 2: concrete and plastic – gallery wall
An alternative context might be in a public building, as with Sample 1. This places the work directly in people’s every day lives and again could make reference to the purpose of the building/institution itself.
The other way to approach this would be more art ‘guerilla’ tactics and place the red spikes on the wall of an institution involved in oppression such as a government building or prison; this would be a much more active approach – the act of making the work becomes an act of protest in itself. This kind of political art really interests me, from the arpilleras of South America to peace banners, craftivism and collaborative projects such as Alice Kettle’s ‘Thread Bearing Witness’ (1);
Detail: Thread Bearing Witness project, A Kettle, Whitworth Art Gallery
Detail: Thread Bearing Witness project, A Kettle, Whitworth Art Gallery
The discussion of the ‘Desconocida/Unknown’ project by Lise Bjorne Linnert (2) has always stuck in my mind since reading about it in ‘hand stitch: Perspectives’ (3). However to take this further I would want to look more at the relationship between textiles and non-textiles; I’m aware that this sample uses no textile elements and I would want to exhibit it alongside Sample 1 so that this question is asked for the viewer too.
Understanding ‘refinement’ and ‘synthesis’ have been really important learning points in the last few assignments – ie it is not about producing ‘polished’ or ‘finished’ pieces but looking at my drawings and samples so far to see what I want to take forward and synthesising these ideas. My intention is to identify elements that excite me, have potential and fit my theme then see how I can extend and combine them to make new samples; this excludes samples that I ‘like’ but don’t offer potential for development, and also ideas with predictable outcomes – I want to keep experimenting, informed by further artist research.
After reviewing my work so far, elements I wanted to pursue:
machine stitched textures and lines
mixed media and non-textile materials: acetate, plastics (recycled), concrete
both 2D and 3D forms – combining elements
larger scale/potential for installation format
Key samples and learning
I like the dynamism of the red emerging from a flat surface in samples for 4.3 here so looked for ways to use this in stitched pieces. I started with printed paper and acetate.
Reflection: I love the energy of the stitched lines combined with the printed surface; this captures the sense of oppression very effectively – it is important that the ‘enemy’ or repressive force has a sense of power. Stitching onto the red was accidental but in fact it suggests a struggle going on between the two materials and reinforces the sense of the red emerging physically from between the grey surfaces.
Developing this idea with textiles – I want the texture and malleability of textiles rather than paper for this work. Although the printed marks work well, it feels rather obvious and predictable; I want to experiment with new processes and see if I can achieve a similar effect differently. Here I’ve used modified fabrics (old, recycled or bleached).
Reflection: the machine stitch and piecing of fabrics works well; it has the ‘rugged’ almost urban aesthetic that I explored in 4.3. I am unsure about the red; the contrast in textures was deliberate – I wanted the red to seem fresh and vital. I like the curving lines, in contrast the the straight lines on the grey, and there is a clear sense of struggle and the red emerging. However, it seems rather clumsy in visual terms – I need to live with this one a while. The red surface is perhaps rather inert; it could be ‘activated’ with stitch or marks. The process felt really promising and exciting; as in earlier samples, the machine stitching felt intuitive and fluid as well as generating a sense of struggle to contain the red line. This piece is about 30 cm square; I would be interested to see the impact of scaling this up – how would the small detail work on a larger scale? what direction should the red line take? should it even be a line?
I explored some of these questions with a more vertically-oriented piece; rather than curving round on itself, the red here is flowing in a more linear way.
Reflection: I like this composition for the line; it feels more purposeful than the looping version – like it’s going somewhere. It could be extended off the edge of the piece and would scale up well to a larger piece. Same reservations about the red as above, though.
I did some artist research to further explore the potential of machine stitch for creating not only lines but surfaces/texture. I’m familiar with the relatively traditional work of artists like Dionne Swift and wanted something more reflective of my own ‘messy’ aesthetic. I looked at the work of Alice Kettle to see how she uses stitch to create large areas of texture and colour on pieces which are often huge in scale. She uses all kinds of threads and reverses the cloth to generate lively, textured areas of stitch – ‘painterly’ is a good way of describing it, it is as though you can see the brush strokes and texture of the paint. Her work tends to be pictorial or figurative with outline figures often sketched over the background in dark thread; my immediate response is that that aspect isn’t for me, but my second thought is not to rule anything out. I also looked at Cas Holmes and how she combines collage and stitch; the overall mood of my work will be very different from Holmes’s but I was interested to see how she worked with layers and integrated the different elements of collage with stitched imagery.
I created a small, densely stitched sample exploring Kettle’s approach of stitched ‘brush strokes’ with my colour palette.
Reflection: I found this very surprising – it felt very much like drawing; I was able to create a wide variety of lines by varying the threads, pace and reversing the fabric. Because the stitch goes in different directions, it catches the light differently; this is a really engaging, energetic process and I feel the resulting surface has lots of potential. The reverse (see images below) is particularly exciting. I stitched the red line in long, continuous ‘strokes’ and there is some sense of contrast between the two colours in texture – however, this could be developed further, perhaps with elements of the plastic in previous samples.
Alongside these samples, I continued to explore non-textile media. Elements from initial sampling that I wanted to synthesise: contrasting textures, composition (especially placement of the red) and scale, with a view to a large scale installation-type piece.
I returned to my series of concrete samples, this time working at A4 scale, pushing fragments of plastic into the semi-set concrete; this time I arranged the fragments in a loose ‘river’ composition based on the stitched samples above.
Reflection: I think this expresses my theme well. I left the red pieces emerging at different levels and this suggests an ongoing process; the different angles and shapes adds a sense of fragmentation as though parts of a shattered whole are coming together. I like the ‘river’-like composition of the red; the fluidity of this implied line contrasts well with the solidity of the grey concrete. Strong backlighting works particularly well as the shadows add a sense of drama and depth. It is exciting to visualise this on a large scale, either a whole wall or even as huge dramatic pieces emerging from a concrete floor – probably outdoors, as the kind of public sculpture I explored in IAP 5, large enough that a person would be dwarfed by the red pieces. It doesn’t seem practical to scale this up further (unless I can find a whole outdoor space) so I will perhaps use Photoshop to present this as it could look. Alternatively, I could find a blank wall and try installing the red fragments differently to see how it works on a much larger scale.
My one reservation about the sample above is the sharpness of the red triangles; I intended them as fragments but they could read as blades, suggesting violence, which I really want to avoid. I therefore returned to the idea of more frayed, open and lively ends (sampled in 4.3).
Reflection: The orange is somewhat lost against the grey in these shots. However, I do find that this draws the eye in closer to investigate and I love the ends emerging here. The fluid ‘wriggly’ lines are so energetic and full of life; they suggest a life force – a living thing – wriggling its way through the tiniest of gaps in the concrete – the metaphor for resisting oppression here is irresistible. The side lighting to create shadows enhances this very effectively. This could work on a wall-size scale; because of the materials, the viewer would also be able to touch the piece – the ends are really tactile and I like their flexibility in contrast to the concrete. Alternatively I could look at incorporating similar lines and materials in my stitched pieces.
Quite a lot of my drawing in this assignment has actually involved translating lines and forms from one material in to another. I’m strongly drawn to the image of plastic bursting free from concrete on the small sample from 4.3 (shown left below). I quickly ‘drew’ this using frayed red fabric and machine stitch to see how it translated into textiles.
Reflection: the textile version lacks the drama of the plastic. However, the frayed ends and the use of textiles in three dimensions are both great ideas to add to the possibilities in any stitched piece I make, especially as I was uneasy with the combination of plastic ‘ribbon’ and stitch in the earlier samples above – this might be a way to incorporate a three dimensional element without the rather unsubtle use of plastics.
To review progress so far, I grouped all of these samples together and noted key elements to take into the final stage of synthesis.
The two key lines of enquiry were a large stitched textile piece and a concrete/plastic installation or sculpture. However, the two are strongly related and I have in mind that pieces in all materials would be exhibited together as variations on a theme.
First line of enquiry: stitched textiles
With the intention of making a large scale stitched piece, I researched a series of textile artists producing what might loosely be termed ‘tapestry’ or banners: Tracey Emin, Nigel Cheney and Grayson Perry. From this I noted the key features of such works – the use of scale, narrative, figurative imagery – and refined what I wanted to do: not use text or pictorial imagery but a narrative of struggle and protest suggested by colour, line and stitch.
Starting with a line, building up areas of stitch in blocks allowed me to ‘draw’ with some spontaneity and keep the piece quite ‘loose’:
Mid way reflection led me to incorporate recycled red plastic netting along the stitched red line to add vibrancy and texture/relief after making small samples to test the effect:
The final piece is as yet unfinished (the stitching is incredibly time consuming) – the stitched area covers approx 80 cm x 50 cm at the moment:
4.5 final sample 1 machine stitch: detail
4.5 final sample 1 machine stitch: detail
4.5 final sample 1 machine stitch: detail
Reflection: I will write a full evaluation of this in the next post. I’ve stitched enough to feel that the colour and processes are working very well to convey the theme; the plastic adds visual interest and variation and suggests the force beneath the surface struggling to break free. I did some drawings to consider whether I wanted to add print or lettering to the composition but decided this muddled the message; given time, I will finish the piece with the same processes.
As a side shoot, I looked at adding red fabric – as I was playing with scraps, I noted the lovely free lines of the frayed edges and the energetic, organic forms made when I pulled a thread to gather the scraps up. To see how this would work as my red line, I stitched a line from an Alice Walker poem onto the red scrap (‘I must whistle like a woman undaunted’) then stitched it to the same kind of background as the main piece.
Reflection: the final stitched version seems rather tame without the contrasting textures/materials of the large sample. However, I like the gathered red piece and the idea of using the poem and have added this to the bank of ideas to explore at a later date – this is emerging as a pattern in this assignment, the 3D ideas not quite coming together yet.
Second line of enquiry: concrete and plastic
To further refine the work I’ve been doing in concrete and how I use the red acetate ‘spikes’, I wanted to look at examples of how mixed media have been used in installation form but also work with an element of ‘spikiness’ or unease that wasn’t confrontational or obviously a ‘protest’ piece. I returned to one of my key ‘influencers’, Susie MacMurray, this time looking at her work with ‘spiky’ materials.
Before this, I’d wondered if my use of the red acetate was too ‘simple’. However, my conclusions (below) actually reinforced my choice of material and form – the refinement would come by changing scale and placement, maybe even looking at site-specific work.
This connects strongly to work I did towards the end of IAP on public art, sculpture and installations – post here on the significance of place in art and here on public art and sculpture. Particularly relevant is the ‘Monument Against Fascism’ by Esther Shalev-Gerz (here) for its ‘protest’ function; I am especially drawn to the participatory nature of this piece as well as its public placement, as opposed to being tucked away in an art gallery – it seems appropriate that protest should be public and on accessible display.
There didn’t seem much to be gained by making a larger sample unless it could be room sized so I used photoshop to quickly suggest how this sample might be interpreted as an installation:
Final sample 2: concrete and plastic – gallery floor
Final sample 2: concrete and plastic – walkway outside
Final sample 2: concrete and plastic – gallery wall
Reflection: I will fully evaluate this in my next post. I think these ideas works well to express the theme (the editing on Photoshop is also rather rough due to rushing) but I’m finding it hard to see how to pursue this further through making.
I started off with a mood board based on the drawings and materials from 4.1 that I felt have potential plus the descriptive words for the theme. I also added a quote from one of the OCA blogs which reinforces that ‘critical thinking is creative thinking’ as using my self-crit to move forward is something I want to work on.
To keep track of key lines of enquiry, I created a map of ideas and artists to research; I’ll add to this as I go but this has proved a very useful strategy, allowing me to follow my nose but also return to key principles now and then and to manage my time. Something I learned from Assignments 2 and 3 is that identifying a final product or even direction proves limiting for me, so I’m keeping this as open as possible.
Key points of learning
The theme of protest led me to research uses of graffiti and lettering in textiles. I put this together with Emin’s stitched letters and created a collaged sample with the words ‘hear me’; these words seem to express the impulse to protest without pinning it down to a specific issue.
Reflection: Visually the sample is quite effective; the worked collaged ground suggests a concrete ‘wall’ quite simply and I like the lettering – the use of machine stitch and frayed edges adds energy and a sense of struggle. The red/orange is quite striking on the grey and using fabrics that are from my stash and have some personal meaning (an old dress, fragments from a shirt my mum made) give this a resonance I hadn’t expected. I could imagine this as a large scale banner piece with any number of protest slogans. It connects with my reading on craftivism, specifically Sarah Corbett’s book, and the art of ‘gentle protest’ through stitch; some of the ‘mindful’ quotes used in craftivism might work well presented in this dynamic lettering.
However, my strong instinct at this stage is to avoid lettering and words; the selection of words seems to narrow down the meaning and relevance of the piece. I think I will put this sample to one side for now.
I wanted to go further with the pieced, collaged background from this sample. My research and samples for Assignment 3, together with my research into stitched protest banners, sparked an interest in constructing a large scale ‘art cloth’ or collage. I started with hand stitch for constructing cloth, such as the work of Matthew Harris and made a simple sample to see if this would suit my concept. While the composition and colour are attractive, I found the process and the resulting piece too ‘gentle’ for this concept.
More robust is the work of Norma Starszakowna, suggesting ways of dealing with broadly political concepts in cloth, using layers of processes as well as colour connotations. I put this together with wider research into large flat textile pieces that used abstract compositions and colour to generate a mood or concept.
I found machine stitch much more suitable for this concept; this is a new process for me, using machine stitch to construct cloth but also draw line and create an active surface. These two samples were made from recycled cloth that had some personal connection for me, machine stitched with different grey/blue threads.
Reflection: these were a real surprise – I was quite resistant to machine stitching but in fact it felt very free and intuitive; the collage built organically and the noisy, mechanical process seemed to reflect the oppressive and impersonal feeling I wanted from this element of the design. Stitching in repeated straight lines actually felt quite violent and ‘suppressed’ the cloth by flattening one layer into another; however, I also noted the way the cloth moved and avoided being flattened in places, especially around the edges and old seams – something to explore further. The use of multiple layers of stitch and deliberately straight lines adds depth and has ‘urban’ connotations, echoing the colour, lines and textures of buildings and concrete walls, relating back to my original imagery.
I’m less sure about the ‘red’ element of the composition.
Reflection: the surface is full of energy and ‘active’, which is good, but probably too similar to the grey/blue – the idea of the ‘protest’ might be stronger with more contrast – maybe the red element should be a whole piece, or use more curved, organic lines to reflect the humanity pitted against inhumanity.
I made a small sample putting the two colours together.
Reflection: Put together, the materials and marks work well, I think; the focus in on the contrast in colour and the irregular lines give this a sense an ongoing process or battle. To develop, I could scale this up (this piece is only 15 cm across) but I could also explore using a greater contrast in texture and/or material between the grey and the red.
The way the material resisted stitching above led me to experiment with non-textile media and sculptural forms to capture the sense of something strong and alive resisting being controlled or suppressed. Concrete was the obvious material here, linking to the building of walls and buildings for detainment as well as its urban and ‘faceless’ qualities. I used two types of springy plastic for the red – a piece of flexible plastic (acetate?) cut from an office folder and a net bag that onions are sold in.
Reflection: I found this very exciting;the materials reflected exactly the qualities I wanted to express and the end result was unpredictable – it felt genuinely exploratory, especially pouring the concrete over the structure. I would develop this in terms of scale and complexity with the same materials; I would also need to construct a base and think about the best shape for this. However, most important will be to keep it light and exploratory, not over planning.
Could I suggest the red material breaking free and emerging from the concrete? This is the same materials in different form; the ‘sprouting’ piece is the gathered end of the net.
Reflection: I don’t like the circular base, which feels too ‘perfect’ and closed. However, the process of trying to bury a line/force that resists being buried was very engaging and has good potential; I’m not sure about the arched forms but these are the lines the plastic itself formed as I tried to squash it into the concrete, so if I take this forward I will continue to allow the materials to create their own form – this has good energy and expressiveness. I love the tufted form from the end of the net; it looks like it is exploding and also has flame-like connotations. The open ends feel very different from the closed form of the arches – this is something to explore further – the open ends are escaping whereas the arches emerge but ultimately remain trapped. I will reflect further on which best expresses the idea of ‘protest’.
The third sample in this series further explores the idea of emerging or erupting from the concrete base.
Reflection: I wanted to explore a more assertive form of ‘protest’ – the spines feel quite aggressive but the inclusion of smaller ones and putting some on a slant mitigates this a little. It was a quite intuitive process, placing the plastic into wet concrete – it felt like drawing – so this is definitely a process I’d return to. The crack was accidental but has led me to think about this as a way of allowing the red to emerge in a future sample.
In the final sample of this series, I used a partially inflated balloon and explored what happened when I tried to coat it with cement.
Reflection: again, a very interesting process – although it ended up as a broken heap of bits, the way the rubber resisted the concrete, the cracks that appeared and the joyful emergence of the rounded ends have all given me ideas about how to move forwards. I chose the balloon as it has energy and resistance and being only partially inflated made it feel like an organic form to represent the ‘humanness’ beneath the oppression; the cracks that appeared in the concrete suggest the potential for resistance and the irrepressibility of our urge to protest. I’m not sure I’ll pursue these specific materials but I will look for ways of expressing this power and resilience in other forms.
My artist research -at this point focused on ceramic artist Gillian Lowndes who produced abstract sculptural pieces using ceramics combined with other materials like metal; her work often has an uncomfortable presence which picks up elements of these concrete samples. Also, her work was largely materials-led and focused on a ‘what if?’ approach to materials and the firing process, something I’m looking to continue with my own materials here.
Inspired by this idea of trying to suppress the irrepressible, and by the contrasting textures I’d found, I created a few quick samples with wrapping.
Reflection: this seems a great process for this concept – making these pieces was quite uncomfortable in that I was trying to squash and contain a resistant material; it is also more active than working with concrete ie I can shape it rather than waiting to see what happens. These pieces highlight the contrast in texture (as well as colour) that I want to take forward in 4.4; accidentally photographing them in sunlight also opened up the possibility of using light with the red plastic to add to the sense of a life-force being oppressed.
Finally, before moving I I used the machine to do some stitch drawings of these samples.
This led me back to more stitched samples using reclaimed fabrics, paper and print.
Reflection: I’m very excited by the possibilities opened up here, especially once layers of stitch and tone build up. The reverse stitch on the bottom sample was a revelation; the looseness was accidental but it seems to have more energy than regular stitch and so works well for the red of the protest against the more rigid stitch on the grey. Another technique I can explore further. The use of print is effective too; however, this does feel a bit predictable or safe and something I’ve used before, so this probably won’t be a major focus for me in the next stage.
I’ve set myself two parameters for this assignment, in addition to the brief: only using materials that I already have (still a pretty wide selection) and using processes that I haven’t yet used in this course. This is both to generate some creativity and to keep being experimental at this stage.
My selection of materials stemming from 4.1:
fabrics – new (from my stash) and recycled; with the contrasting qualities needed for the theme ie strong/matt/layered for the ‘grey’ element and powerful, vibrant and ‘fluid’ (as far as possible) for the ‘red’ element. Also dyes to try hand-colouring.
sewing threads – I want to explore contemporary embroidery techniques using both hand and machine stitch
cardboard and papers, paints and gesso to explore modifying the surface and qualities of the fabrics
concrete, plaster, PVA, latex, acetate, plastics – to explore three-dimensional work and ways of conveying the implacable grey of oppression versus the passion of protest; I think some of these ‘resistant materials’ will be useful for conveying the strength of the urge to protest and its refusal to be quieted
I’ve found this concept very engaging; it also seems very clear in my mind; I hope this is because it is authentic to my own beliefs and aesthetics and not because I’ve narrowed it down too early. My focus for 4.1 has therefore been on thinking broadly and challenging myself to come up with different ways to visualise the concept.
To make sure I focus on learning and not narrative, I’ve used selected images and bullet points here – this is not a full account – that’s in my sketchbook.
Refining the concept
My reading and thinking on the current political climate have been instrumental here. I re-examined my initial photos and concept and decided that I wanted to focus on the hope and passion that leads people to protest in the sense of speaking out, rather than the confrontation that can result. This was reinforced by what I read about ‘gentle protest’ in Sarah Corbett’s book (see list below); while I’m not pursuing the craftivism approach, the idea of listening opponents and working with them rather than simply resisting. It also connects with my ongoing reading of Rebecca Solnit’s writing on activism (see Assignment 3 here).
This slight shift is also reflected in the written statement that accompanies my trend board; the original described the theme as ‘a stamp of colour on the concrete wall of oppression’ and I’m looking at alternative words to ‘stamp’ which now seems too aggressive – it could be replaced with ‘burst’, for example.
Once I’d clarified the concept, I focussed on refining the palette and looking at ways of conveying the contrasting qualities of the oppressor (grey, static, solid) and the urge to protest (vibrant, fluid, energetic) before I start sampling.
Refining the palette
Using different processes and materials, I refined the red from the original palette to be slightly more orange in tone to avoid the bloody/violent overtones of the red; orange seems more suggestive of energy and vitality.
Originally thinking to tone down the blue and use an orange:grey contrast, I explored lots of variations on the blue/grey continuum but returned to the idea of a clear element of blue in the grey rather than an entirely desaturated grey. This seems to have more energy and depth; the pure grey seemed too ‘dead’ and passive to really be a force holding in the red/orange. If the blue/grey is representing a strong ‘opponent’ of some kind (a regime or attitude or political force), it needs to convey a sense of power in opposition to the positive life force of the red/orange rather than being inert.
Exploring surface and texture
This was a fascinating exploration – what surfaces and textures would best convey the concept? What I learned:
the grey needs to be layered and textured to activate the surface (as in the comments on colour above); although it represents a strong force oppressing the red/orange, drawings/samples with just one solid block of grey were too dead and flat to give a sense of power. The most effective surfaces/textures were layered fabrics with layers of non-textile media and machine stitch.
I’d initially intended the red/orange to be smooth and almost fluid in texture (paint, PVA etc) to suggest a freshness and energy in contrast to the worn greys. When applied on top of the greys, this worked; however, sometimes this seemed to get lost against the more active grey surface so I’ll continue to experiment – I think it will depend on the materials I end up using
Materials, form, line and scale
using the nature of cloth is going to be key – its emotional resonance, associations with personal and public history, its tactile qualities
key qualities for the materials seem to be dense, layered, tight but energetic – an interesting contrast with my two previous themes; particularly effective was a sample (above) with irregular bits of fabric from garments including some made by my mum many years ago – layering and stitching these pieces had real emotional resonance, enhanced by the fact that the pieces were irregular in shape and clearly from garments, with some original seams/stitches still evident – something to explore furthe
promising processes – printing onto or modifying textile surfaces with paint and gesso; layering processes and materials; machine stitch has the energy and intensity needed, compared to hand stitch; moulding and casting and sculpting
Initially I looked at colour coming through in a ‘slash’ or more or less straight line, as through a crack in concrete. However, playing with collage (above) showed me that a curved or diagonal line has more energy.
Further explorations of fabric and stitch will look at stitched protest banners, connecting back to my own experience of peace marches in the 1980s, and Tracey Emin for use of text and applique.
I found several possible avenues for three dimensional work; to take this forward, I’ll focus on the qualities of different materials. For example, concrete is an obvious material but, where the machine stitched fabric worked well in collage, here it proved rather lifeless in conjunction with the concrete – it looks trapped rather than as though it’s escaping. Wrapping a balloon in wool, in contrast, was exciting as the half-inflated balloon definitely resisted the wrapping and proved a fun but powerful force – much more like the passion of protest that I have in mind, especially when backlit.
I have a completely open mind about the final form of the piece after this initial research except I’m likely to work large scale – partly as a development of learning in Assignment 3 & discussions with my tutor; and partly as it seems key to the concept – not site specific as I want to keep a universality (about the human condition, not a specific protest or issue) but immersive form/installation is a possibility to share the feeling of passion and uprising; multiples or a large scale even sculptural piece
I might return to ideas from IAP4 about public art and Alain de Botton’s concept of ‘Art as Therapy’ in a public sense as this seems integral to the concept; however, my focus might end up a more personal ie individual ‘speaking out’.
Research and practical responses
It’s worth noting what I feel I’ve learned about artist research. While this has been quite effective and singled out for praise by my tutor, I’ve sometimes felt I’ve left the connection between my research ad my own work rather obscure – making a quick leap from looking at others’ work to making my own. As a result, I’ve missed some of the more subtle learning I could have benefitted from. In this assignment, I wanted to address this by consciously making or drawing using materials or processes of the artist I was studying; this worked well when I tried applying paint in the style of some Alexander McQueen fabrics I’d been looking at. Examples below; this has definitely opened my mind to processes I wouldn’t have considered previously, such as collage.
Alongside this I’m continuing my wider reading. I’m finding strong resonances within this concept with some of my long-standing interests, eg feminist literary theory and the ‘silencing’ of women’s voices, and continuing my on-off exploration of Rozsika Parker’s ‘The Subversive Stitch’.
Corbett, S.(2017)How to be a Craftivist: The art of gentle protest (Unbound, London)
de Botton, A and Armstrong, J. (2013) Art as Therapy (London, Phaidon Press)
Hemmings, J (ed). (2012) The Textile Reader (Bloomsbury, London)
Parker, R.(2010 edition; 1st edition 1984) The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine (I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, London)
Solnit, R. (2016 revised ed.; 1st ed 2005) Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (Canongate, Edinburgh)