Over the last few weeks, since my arrival here in Cardiff, I have been experiencing a range of mixed emotions around the separation from my current home place. These feelings, sometimes overwhelming and worrying, at other times enjoyable and filled with opportunity, have been felt wholly at both a thinking and a bodily level (if indeed we can separate the two). My work often tends to materialise these events, allowing me to challenge and push various materials to reflect the essence of what it being felt.
The below explores this journey.
It is not as if I am approaching this topic with any sense of certainty. For the feelings of separation are not easily contained. They consist of a broad range of visceral emotions. On the one hand, there are feeling of elation or of freedom. Being able to mould my day, my world and do whatever it is I want to do. Very few demands on your time other than the ones I impose. I can spend all day doing what I want to do.
On the other hand, there is a tension. This feeling is quite bodily in sensation. It is like an emptiness, a longing. I feel this longing is for the most basic feeling of connection. The sense of freedom dissolves into a craving. A crave for the care of touch, for engaging conversation and a sense of understanding.
It feels like a double edged sword and one which ebbs and flows as the weeks go by. Periods of feeling settled and grounded giving away to feelings of restlessness and emptiness. Neither seem to want to give in the other, and so the tension goes on.
I delve into the world of separation and look for some sort of explanation for what is being felt. I explore definitions of the word and am surprised to find that separation is in fact a variety of things – a space, an act, a line. My thinking starts to open up to how this feeling can best be translated into a form or shape.
I also start looking at separation from a purely chemical, physical, emotional or social perspective. When looked at in chemical terms, two properties simply disconnect, separate and form new elements. I wonder whether something new is created or whether its simply two pieces coming apart. I then start looking at this from a psychological perspective. Why is separation for humans such a dramatic or emotional affair? Why can’t humans separate with the ease of two elements? Why to we crave connection – is it embedded in our DNA?
Much research has shown the effect of lack of touch on children in orphanages. Its based on the idea that we don’t just need physical connection to feel good, it impacts on your emotional, physical and psychological development. They grow up with a range of social and emotional difficulties that effect their ability to not just form relationships but to manage and cope with life on a daily basis.
How do I translate a material from a feeling? Is it possible? Do certain materials hold more feelings? Or certain feelings? Or is it what you do to the material that matters?
A weld some copper coated wire together in long straight lines. There is something about a long series of straight lines, a uniformity that can easily be broken, perhaps. Once all of the wires are in place, a cut the wires and separate them – moulding and bending the wire into certain forms. I enjoy the process but there is something quite severe about what I am doing. I am reminded of the many books on emotional difficulties with separation that were in the psychology section of the library.
I enjoy casting short and long shadows on the wire, getting different effects. The positioning of the light draws out the shadows, making a confusing array of lines and half lines on the surface. Confusing indeed.
I think about the reactions that take place with certain materials – reactions that lay a little outside our control. I decide to do some experimentation with clay and glazes. I create a series of test tiles in White St Thomas clay, some flat and others with a slight tilt.
I tear the clay pieces away from each other, producing a rough edging. The idea that separation could exist on nicely perfected edges seems like a conflict.
I want to explore a range of glazes that react against each other in the kiln. Glazes that might push apart or separate from each other, or glazes that might react to the clay. Can the feelings of separation be expressed through a visual end result. Will the glaze look like a conflict or tension took place in the kiln? Again, how do I translate this feeling into a form.
As always, I feel most comfortable asking thread and cloth to engage in a conversation with me. I think about materials separating, being torn apart, I think of threads being cut and pulled.
I begin to experiment with the digital stitch machine – a new arena. I create a multitude of stitch patterns, and trial a range of materials. I am interested in materials that fray – that have evidence of separation on their edges.
Again, I go back to photographing something with light and in shadow. I’m not sure why I keep coming back to this. I feel that with the shadow, everything is removed, the form is stripped back to its basics. It allows me to see the piece. See it in a way that I can then progress my ideas.
The single run lines produces the uniformity I’m looking for. I tear one piece completely, with a sharp scissors. The line it produces is definite, perhaps a little too violent. The other side I tear gently and roughly, with a smaller scissors. They say if you are to be cut, it is best to be cut with a sharp knife, the cut is cleaner. Cutting yourself with a blunt knife results in a wound that is more difficult to heal. Is it the same when we are separated from those we love?
Circular patterned threads produce interesting shadows. The threads bunch together as they layer one on top of the other.
Individual patterns can also be created with circular and square shapes. I feel as though I probably placed too many layers on top of each other. Perhaps less the next time? Yet the shadows are interesting.
The parallel weave produces the most beautiful shadows. The lines look stressed, not completed and perhaps starting to fall apart. I am not sure why I get drawn back continually to linear forms?
I begin to explore the world of lines and linear form. I am drawn to the impact that lines in space have. Many of the artists I look at use lines in that context. I am reminded of Nuam Gabo’s linear pieces, with some examples given below.
In his works he explores the dynamics of space. By filling space with lines, you become more aware of the space that the lines are in. I am not sure, or perhaps I cannot see any connection yet, with how these continual lines relate to the emotions I am feeling. In some ways there is a comfort in them, a repetitive action that seems to sooth upon viewing.
The square pattern looks nice but I am more interested in the white on white. I really like using the milk material – has it gone through a process of separation in order to be produced? Milk fibre is produced by a process of fermentation, heating and extraction. The result is a softness in the materials, it feels so comforting. It is also quite a movable material. It does not sit still, waiting to be stitched. But it finds its own fold ands bend – I little unruly perhaps.
When I turn this the wrong way round, there are slightly dots of blue scattered in a largely white piece – the suggestion of something, but what?
In the end, I seem to be drawn towards these two pieces.
In the one below, I love the feel of ripping these perfectly stitches green threads. I like the contrast, lines of stitch verses lines of cut stitch. I am not sure if I will cut all the way through, through the material, or if the stitch alone is enough.
My scale is too small, I’m finding it hard to think like this. I think bigger, this is bigger..
I really like the effect of this single run line stitch on the muslin cloth. The lines dance across the space, producing such delicate shadows and shapes. Part of me wants to stitch back into these. Perhaps in an attempt to bring them together again?
Again, I am reminded of threads in space. Are the thread going to be hung in mid air? Rather than attached to a piece of material , some paper or other material? I could attach to other threads, stitched in the opposite direction. Hanging in space.
I start to push wood. Bending and distorting it so that it comes under pressure. Pressure that will eventually lead it to separate. I enjoy the cracks and blistering that happens to the wood. It reflect the stress, it reflects the process.
I think I may want to incorporate bending into my final piece. To me, it reflects the tension that exists. The tension between two opposing forces.
I begin the process of experimentation around the linear stitch. I repeat over and over again. I trial colours, I trial stitch lengths, I trial the distance between lines. This tends to be the way that I work. I need to experience and see how it looks, how it feels before I can progress through the process. I hang it in particular lights and in particular ways.
There is something dramatic about the red, angry, gushing blood. Red is such an emotive and primary colour. I am reminded of two artists I am interested in.
Much of Shiota’s work involves hanging threads and yarn in mid air. She fills spaces. There is something quite dream like, as she references this herself. Some have described her work as painting in mid.
I relate a lot of this. I often hang my pieces of cloth and thread in mid air. It is like they become a canvas. The stitching of the thread is like the making of the canvas, once completed I can then begin the work.
Agano’s work also appeals to me on many levels. Again the use of lines in space. Yet also the forms she begins to create. I have noticed that with this piece of work, I am not just interested in the lines and the stitch, but I am becoming increasingly interested in the structural form.
I enjoy the way she approaches her materials with an air of simplicity. She has made a decision to do this. To contrast the simplcity of materials with the complexity of form. Her forms fills the space, contain structural tension and incorporate light. With this project, I keep coming back to the simplicity of white. White thread and white material. I am not sure why yet.
Jon gave a great talk on the evolution of art and craft. At one point Grayson Perry states “Good God this debate is so old”. I have to laugh. It is how I feel too. I have done so much reading over the last year or two. So much historical research on the differences and similarities between arts and crafts. Given all that I have read, I do not feel in any way closer to knowing what I am. Or if I ever will.
Theories of Separation
There are several theories about why people feel the way they do when separated from those they love. But the common thread are feeling of anxiety, with raised cortisol (the stress hormones) in the system. There can also be sleep disturbance and physical discomfort.
Its the idea of physical or physiological pain and discomfort that is of interest. The feelings of separation can be physically felt. The aching in my heart and the hollowness in my chest. Physical and visceral feelings.
Various stitch lengths and distances
I replicate and replicate. As I sit in a group tutorial, the ideas start coming to me, the language starts to form. Can I create a form from an emotion? Do emotions have a form? Are there things I can do to evoke the feelings of separation. Will the viewer sense this? Is that the work?
Patterns emerge from my thinking. A rhythm or a pattern. Lines close together at the start start drifting apart, only to start coming back together again. Does this happen several times in the one piece or simple once? As I trial I realise that the feeling of separation are a wave. It builds slowly, then its felt intensely for a day or so, then retreats back again. 1 single wave of feeling, a song in its own right. Repeated as and when.
As part of this piece, in parallel to it, I am meeting with a range of professionals in the arts and health arena. I want to begin to decipher where I fit. Am I interested in bringing the creative process into a healthcare setting to assist and improve a sense of wellbeing. Am I interested in using the creative process as a therapeutic tool, potentially in the form of art therapy. Do I simply want to make art work that helps people to process and manage their feelings while they are unwell? Should my art engage people in a conversation about their health or simply pacify them with a calming aesthetically pleasing image? These are my questions and these questions multiply as I continue my research.
Carol Hiles, University of South Wales.
With Carol Hiles I begin to unravel where my thinking might sit. Carol runs the Arts, Health and Wellbeing programme at University of South Wales. We openly discussed a range of topics around the rather expansive area of art and health. She gave me a wide range of health and community based arts projects to examine. Having worked as an artist in a healthcare setting for many years, we discussed the role of art work within hospitals, and the role of artists within any healthcare setting: this involved both patients and staff in these settings. Some evaluation work has taken place around these projects and Carol gave me references for these.
The issue of participation was talked about in terms of the artwork. A range of community and healthcare based projects looked how to engage people in the creative process and become a central part of the art work created. Other projects simply parachuted in pieces for placement in particular areas. We also discussed upcoming events and conferences that I would love to go to.
I think my conversation with Carol allowed to to begin to explore the possibilities for the future. My initial thoughts were that the only way forward for me was to carry on my studies in art therapy. However, I am now beginning to question this and think about how I could work with my existing skills and talents.
Meeting with Melanie from Llandough Hospital
I met Melanie in the Hearth Gallery, Llandough hospital’s purpose built art facility. There was an exhibition on national identity that used mostly stitch and fabric, with some printing. She also kindly showed around other areas of the hospital, and the range of art work on display within the hospital. We were able discuss the role of artwork within a hospital settings. Melanie was a great source of information when it came to other initiatives in the locality and gave me plenty to work with.
Again I reflected on my own practise. Would I ever display work in a healthcare setting and what would be my intention around this? Would I aim to distract or converse with patients and staff at the hospital?
Discussion with Jac Fennel, The LAUGH Project
I had a great conversation with Jac Fennel on the work done by Cathy Treadaway. We discussed three different projects that the team have been involved with over the last few years, including Hand E-Craft and the Laugh Project. The main aim of much of this work is to connect with people with late onset dementia. It really focused on the creative process and how it healed and impacted on those involved. It also talked about the end result. For example, the Hand E-Craft project created highly personalised pockets for those with late onset dementia. These were given to and used by these patients. For many of them, it acted as a sensory experience that allowed them to re-connect with loved ones or themselves.
The conversation with Jac reignited my desire to understand and develop the creative process in terms of health. I had started doing some research on this yet I realised I still has so much to do. There seems to be a parallel process here: learning by doing and researching to learn more. I think on some level these are interconnected, although the threads of connection are yet to emerge. I guess that is what trust is all about.
In addition to talking to local contacts, I also wanted to get an idea of how artwork was displayed in other areas. I contacted a number of hospitals and heard back from three. I carried out telephone interviews with the following individuals:
Edelle Nolan, Arts Coordinator with CUH in Cork, St Lukes Hospital in Kilkenny and Wexford General Hospital. Ireland
Lucy S Nye, Manager Interiors and Activation Resources, MD Anderson Cancer Research Centre, Texas, United States
Guy Noble, Arts Curator, University College London Hospital Arts and Heritage, London, UK
I asked a number of standard questions regarding the artwork in the hospitals, such as where their artwork came from, what policies and procedures were in place and what kind of budget existed. It was really interesting to see the contrast that existed between countries.
Speaking to Artists
I also spoke to 2 artists who had been commissioned for work in a healthcare setting. I wanted to get an idea of what the process of engagement felt from the artist’s perspective. I spoke to Debbie Dawson about a number of stained glass window pieces in Cork University Hospital in Cork and to Pamela Hardesty about her textiles piece in St Joseph’s Hospital, Clonsilla, Dublin.
What I found interesting about both sets of feedback was how the artists felt the work had been ‘meaningful’. They had both enjoyed the process for similar reasons. The feeling that the artwork was being appreciated was important and that the artwork could have a positive effect on those in these facilities. It reflects this ongoing question I have about my own work. I would like my work to have meaning and benefit in some way. My areas of interest have always been health and welling so it makes sense that my work would assist in the healing process.
What I am starting to become interested in, based on several of the conversations I have had locally, is that the healing process isn’t always about uplifting or calming hospital patients or residents. Yes, art can provide an opportunity for people to reflect, take a step back or take a step out of the hospital environment.
However, some art work also encourages people to share in their experiences, some of which are disturbing and difficult. It may also challenge the viewer to consider their situation and be honest with themselves about where they are at. I am beginning to think in a much wider way about art in hospital setting.
Trips to London
I have really enjoyed this proximity to London. I have been up there every few weeks and have been exposed to so much. Visiting places like the Victoria and Albert, the Design Museum, the Satchi Gallery, Sir John Sloane’s Museum, The Hunterian Museum and The Photographers Gallery for the first time, returning again and again to the Royal Academy.
This time I took time out to revisit a Henry Moore sculpture I had seen many years ago. Being outside in Hyde Park, I felt it was showing the aging affect of time more than other sculptures. I really enjoy the simplicity of Henry Moore’s forms, although my heart will always be with Barbara Hepworth. The more I read, I am also surprised (although I shouldn’t be!!) how much often Moore is referenced than Hepworth.
I also attended a fascinating exhibition in the Royal Academy on the artwork produced during the years of the Russian Revolution. I had been impressed by how much art was used for political purposes, for the spread of propaganda and for the tailored depiction of life in Russian at that time. It minded me of the power of cultural and societal influences on the art work produced in any given era.
Walking in South Wales
Each week and when I’m here at the weekends, I walk the hills and parklands of the area. This is where I reconnect, gain perspective and settle myself.
What I find fascinating about the hills around me is that they are undergoing a constant process of renewal. Of course, every landscape is, but here, reference is continually made the the valleys former life. Mines of copper, iron and coal have slowly disappeared under a bed of new foliage – plant life and bird life regain their dominance. Will nature always win? Is there a natural order in existence that oversees and manages. Is there really that much for us to do other that allow nature the space to do what is wants to do. Is there much for the artist to do, other than allow the creative process to flow and gently guide the outcome. Do we think too much of ourselves?
This is the first time I have used a digital stitch machine. I spent a day sitting beside it, watching, managing and overseeing. As the day drew to a close, I began to think about how my relationship to the materials have changed over the day. I am enjoying the result – the creation to single run stitches across both space and the material. But there is something of a disconnect. The level of engagement drops. You don’t quite feel or touch your way through the process as you would do with hand stitching.
This sense of removal is a little similar to how I feel with the kiln. The relationship you develop with the material, glass or clay, then separates while in the kiln. Anything can happen – good or bad. Although there is a great sense of control with the digital stitch machine, there is still a feeling of detachment. I can’t imagine not stitching into this piece. I can’t imagine not placing my fingers and hands on threads and material.
Can you create a piece and be completely removed from the making? Of course, so many artists hand over the making to the other while their realm is the concept. Yet, something, somewhere in all of this makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Detached. How do I re-connect with the piece once the stitching is complete?
I spent over a day in front of this machine. Line after line after line. there was a rhythm and flow as each line was created, A jarring to a halt when each sequence was made and I needed to line up the next.
It think this is one of the things that appeal to me about the linear form. thre is a sense of the passing of time. A sense of the the day to day repetition of life, the ordinariness.
As I dissolved the stitch, the lines began to take a life of their own. I loved the result. I loved the musical quality of the lines and lines of threads. I pulled some tighter and loosen some, tried to group them together yet they felt comfortable all hanging singularly.
In order to a sense of tension and a slight stretch, I found some plastic rods which I placed at both ends. I put the piece on its side and watch the threads hang, suspended in mid air. I want to be able to see through them, see out the other side.
Touching the stitching feels so soft. I run my fingers down each one. I feels so much like brail feels on a sign. I feel these stitches are a code. A code to the stories of the past, past separations and past events. They do not need words or language to be told. They hang in space, scripts of tales gone by.
As I made attempts to stitch into them further, something didn’t feel right. there was a need for simplicity, starkness of a single colour. Starchiness of freshly ironed sheets.
Seon Ghi Bahk
Again, I start to re-engage with artists how hang threads in space or pieces in space. I was drawn to the work of Seon Ghi Bahk. He explores the relationship between nature and man, natural and man made objects. Why do artists chose to hang pieces in space, rather than on the floor?
I am also drawn to the work of Beili Liu’s, which is full of contrasts. I think this is one the reasons I am moved towards her work. On her website’s bio I enjoy the description of her work “Liu’s immersive installations are engaged with multifaceted dichotomies: lightness contrasted with heft; fierceness countered by resilience; and chaos balanced by quiet order.”
I see a reference on her “Lure Series” which contains red thread. I have been thinking about using red on my piece, either ink, paint or thread. When I read the description of the red, something stirs. Although this talks about soul mates, my interpretation of soul mates are significant people in your life. Friends, family, lovers
“Chinese legend of The Red Thread, which tells that when children are born, invisible red threads connect them to their soul mates. Over the years of their lives they come closer and eventually find each other, overcoming great social divides or physical distances.”
This reminds me of a similar story in Japanese culture. Here the belief is that the ulner artery radiates out from the heart, through the invisible world of the body and along to the little finger. A red threads then extends out to reach another little finger, allowing the two hearts to touch.
‘For the ontological imagination, the myth of the red string is a way to understand our itinerary of encounters as a predetermined plot where couples’ relationships, the intimate brushes against someone, and all the little stories we crisscross with others are neither random triumphs nor accidents, but part of a scarlet tapestry whose threads were given to us when we were born but which we knit ourselves.’
Akiko Ikeuchi creates installations that encompass large spaces, filling them with fine knotted silk thread. Apparently Akiko Ikeuchi starts with detailed architectural type drawings for the installations. She uses cotton thread as a foundation and then slowly knots the silk threads into a mesh. What I like about this work is the apparent contrast that exists. Light silk threads being knotted to form that large installations that feel like huge forces, tornadoes, cyclones and galaxies.
I found a fantastic resources that details the use of string art in the modern era and stumbled across many of the artsits I had been studying to date: http://artradarjournal.com/2014/09/26/what-is-string-art-art-radar-explains/
A friend is talking to another friend. She speaks of a book that she is reading. It engages my friends interest. As I chat to my friend, she tells of the book. It engages my interest. On one of the many voyages back to Ireland, I read the book.
‘Five people you meet in Heaven’. The book is a short easy read that tells the story of an ordinary man leading an ordinary life. The book opens with the death of the elderly gentleman named Eddie who works as the head of maintenance at an amusement park called Ruby aka Salty Pier. After he dies, he meet five people that have touched his life and whose life he has touched. the basic message of the book is about the interconnectedness of life and that people come in and out of our lives for all sorts of reasons.
Its only now, as I reflect back, that I realise this book connects into this work. The red string, the deep connections we have in life. I’m not sure that time or space can separate these.
Reading on Asian Aesthetic and Art
I continue to reference Asian artists in my work, so I thought it might be a good idea to begin to understand a little more about the aesthetic traditions with Asian. I am focusing on Japan because I am drawn to their style of art, for some reason. This book was recommended to me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The three core principles of wabi-sabi are:
All things are impermanent.
All things are imperfect
All things are incomplete.
This felt like a breath of fresh air. There is always that part of my that is conflicted around the way that I work. I tend to work quite organically, allowing the materials to speak to me and form themselves. I often look at the perfection of what I see from other artists. The straight lines and perfect edges, and I always feel that I need to change the way I work to produce ‘the perfect finish’.
I am not sure where I sit this, yet I have a feeling that it will continue impact on the way that I work.
I also read some information on Japanese aesthetic and Culture. Although this deals mostly with literature. I begin to learn more and more about the history and evolution of aesthetic. I learn about the importance of nature in all areas of Japanese life. I begin to understand about the influence of China on Japanese language and theatre, and all aspects of Japanese life
The Zen Arts
This book is sitting on my table, waiting to be read. I see the connections beginning to form. The connections between people and place, person and language and expression, person and time and environment.
I managed to step outside the realm of Asian, into a wider global arena: http://www.yellowtrace.com.au/string-thread-installations/
At the back of my mind, as always, is where this work should be placed. For some reason, perhaps attached to the research I have been doing, I am tempted to place this piece in a hospital settings.
Of course, part of my is worried that the piece would be ‘lost’ in the never ending corridors of a hospital. I would hope that the piece be placed somewhere with natural light, so that the shadows of the threads would appear on the back drop of the piece.
Most work placed in hospitals are subject to strict health and safety guidelines. Most textile, along with other materials, need to be cased. Protected from dust and other pathogen carrying potential.
If placed in a case, this piece would need to be placed a few inches from the plain white background. This would give space for the shadows to fall. This mulls around in the back of my mind.
The use of white
“White resonates, like a silence that can suddenly be understood.” Wassily Kandinsky
Despite discussing the potential use of colour below, I am, however, deeply interested in using just white for this piece. The idea of colour remains in the back of my back, yet at the forefront in the using one colour, and that colour is white.
I feel there is a connection to white and my interest in Asian art. In many Asian cultures, including China, India and Japan, white is linked to death and mourning (as it once was in Europe). For Buddhists, white is associated with the lotus flower which symbolises light and purity as well as knowledge or “illumination” (including the Buddha’s hand gesture).
There is something in this. Something of the loss, the loss of separation. And also something in its singleness. White and white alone.
I go on to read that in Japan, white is also a sacred and pure colour, the colour of angels and Gods. White is also the colour of cleanliness and can also represent reverence, purity, simplicity, peach, humility, youth, winter, snow, good, cold, clinical and sterile.
I begin to think about the introduction of colour into the piece. I reflect back on all my reading and research into red thread. For some reason, I do not feel that the material or the thread should be dyed or painted prior to the creative process. The piece continues to be uniform of colour, white fibres and thread.
Yet, in the back of my mind, I consider applying colour post production. The idea of wetting the piece, almost like the water contained in the Irish sea, and using either Indian inks or watercolours to create a running colour effect. I trial one. I love the result. More than anything I love the way the thread carries the paint ink away from the point of contact. there is something here but I am not sure what yet.
Fabric Manipulation Workshop
The fabric manipulation workshop had a definite affect on the way my work progresses. My ideas about cloth and thread as a 2D form was challenged in a new and different way. Many of the work I had done in the past had elements of 3D perspective through the way I had hung them. Yet, now, I was beginning to see the potential of the sculptural aspects and possible forms that could come out of my work.
I begin to experiment with different shapes and sizes, and create circles of hollowed space. I chose colours and am drawn to the steely grey contrasting colours. Again, the stealy grey of the ocean as I crossed on the ferry to get here.
Through bending, folding, tying and tensing, I create more and more hollow effect with the material. This hollow effect is the feeling I experience when I am going through these waves of feelings of separation. This hollow feeling, this deep loneliness, is expressed through the concave form that begins to take shape as I pull and create extra tension on the piece.
I simply had to take this shot. I was making in the sunshine. I was using the steely grey thread for my concave forms, and in this moment, the steely grey began to appear as the shadow for the threads and as the shadow of the concave forms. There is something about dynamics of the shadow and movements. It seems to be alive. It seems to be moving.
This idea had been milling about in the back of my mind. How could I take something solid, yet something moving, the represent the sense of separation in another material. I had made large torn test tiles, bisque fired and had started looking at glazes. I began to choose glaze recipes where there was a more obvious conversation between the glaze ad the ceramic and the glazes placed together on the ceramic. This appears to me like a movement in the end result.
I came up with 4 potential recipes and ended up choosing three. I then came with a series of trials. These trails were based on the idea that I would layer up the glazes and see how they conversed or separated in the kiln.
Results and Reflection
Upon reflection, this was a largely successful process over all. Not necessarily as a result of the final product, but as a result of the process undertaken.
I realised that I would never have been able to carry out this process back in Cork. I took charge of the whole process. From selection and making of the glazes. from managing and producing the final fired tiles. I was immensely proud to have done everything myself with guidance from those around me. That really summed up my process here. Giving me access to processes and resources I would not have been trusted with at home. And taking ownership of that process and the results I found.
The tiles did not turn out the way I expected. The ingredients of one glaze completely dominated some tiles, and glaze of others barely had any colour at all. I learnt a lot about measuring correctly, making smaller test tiles and applying glazes successfully. I do have the time to continue this exploration here but hope to bring my learning back to Cork.
The process of Finalisation
It is only as I lay the material out and as I begin to discuss my ideas out loud that I realise something. These feelings of separation, these feelings that I have been working through over the last few months, have been old familiar feelings. They are known to me, yet I am a little surprised how more deeply I feel them now. Perhaps the strongest memory I have of this feeling is when I was a child. Being sick in the hospital for several months, I used to lay in bed at night, awake, waiting for the crack of dawn, for my parents to arrive. the hollowness, the longing was deeply felt then, although with a child’s mind I had no idea how to express them. And yet when I see the white sheet in front of me, I am reminded of the hospital beds on which I lay for so long.
These emotions are not mine. They exist in everyone of us. Yes, we all have a different story to tell, but all of us can connect with that sense of longing, that desire for connection. This personal perspective is human desire. I am reminded of the words of Graham Collier:
We have been constantly stressing the distinctly individual nature of the creative consciousness, only to arrive at a point where we say that the inspired artist rises above the personal…. in doing so the artist uncovers deep layers of his own being which are also central to our common humanism. ’ (1972:52)
Am I rising above the personal? Or am a working through my own emotions with no ability to translate this journey to others?
I am always fascinated when I walk around galleries and see a piece. I look at it, perhaps I feel something or I simply enjoy how it looks. Then I go to the little piece of information on the piece and find out the story of the piece. Suddenly my eyes are transformed. They are no longer looking at a piece. They are reading a story. Can I tell my story?
I began to reflect on a conversation I had with Huw about the concept of the piece. We started to talk about the concept for the piece. Although its been at the back of my mind all they way through, what I realised that the last week or so had been completely about the aesthetic. I had got completely caught up in the idea of how it was looking. The three circles, upon reflection, were more links to my interest in numerology than the concept of separation.
I knew I had to go back to basics. Being driven by aesthetic is one thing, but where then does the meaning sit? This piece about feelings, about the feelings I have had within my since my arrival, the feelings that we all have when we are separated from those that we love. I needed to refocus.
I talked to Martin about a frame. We drew a variety of options and problem solved a range of issues. I originally looked at a billowing of the material. A convex arch that would hold the material in place, with the three concave forms in the middle. Yet not only was this becoming increasingly complicated, I had to again question the meaning. What was the significance of the convex shape – what was it adding to the sense of separation?
We discussed a basic wooden frame that would hold the piece in place. The aspect of tension was important here. I wanted a certain stretch on the materials and the stitches but not too much. I wanted the view to sense the tension as the material wrapped around its frame.
But would the wooden frame be too clunky. It began to remind me of a bed, the wooden frame of a bed. As the white milk fibre was increasingly reminding of the sheets in the hospital, soon the wooden frame became the bed.
We also discussed the possibility of a wire frame. I like the frame of this lighter weight option, given the piece more of a fragility. I would have to make the frame and spray it white, I did not want to deviate from the whiteness when it came to the frame.
Over the last few months, I have walked Bute Park on a weekly basis. Sometimes in the darkness in the height of winter, and today, for the first time, in the warmth. I had to remove layers. Yet, always early in the morning before I’d start my day in college. It grounds me and allows me to reflect on my time here.
This has been a significant aspect of my time here. My love of trees and water have been satisfied as I walk the woodlands and fields. Over the last few weeks, I have seen the changes around me. I thought the trees were asleep, in the winter slumber. But first the daffodils, and then the buds on the trees remind me that nature is never sleep, simply preparing for new life.
The magnolias and the cherry blossom remind me of this each week. As I read more about Japanese culture and aesthetic, I learn about the significance of the cherry blossom in Japan. The cherry blossom are not just there to remind the people of the beauty and fragility of life, but also the life cycle of the blossom is so terribly short.
This time, these 12 weeks away, as nature has reminded me, has almost been a period of renewal and rebirth. Yes, the feeling of separation that I have felt have been difficult, but there is something quite natural about my time here. As Spring goes through a period of rebirth around me, it is almost that I sense my own rebirth. This Piece is about separation, almost in a way that the umbilical cord is cut. I feels primal. With all birth, as the child separates from the mother, it the beginning of something new.
When I first looked into the theories around separation, I was interested in it was seen as a line, a space, and my focus and interest was here. Yet it also the creation of two new elements.
Today’s stitching felt so much different.I removed the three circles and decided on one long oval shape. As I started stitching I asked Maggie about stitch options for the piece and she gave me some great options. I realised that I could ‘stitch off’ the piece so that the first stitch could be an end in itself. As I started stitching I realised that I could also do the same for last stitch. This would mean that each side of the piece could act independently of the other. I could pull and gather and create the form on each side.
Previously I had needed to pull both sides of threads to gather the material and create the form. Yet this created a sagging of the threads in between which I didnt want. Now I could control the tension of the centre threads and the tension of the side stitching separately. Ureka.
I then went about making a frame. I got 2 mm wire and bent it into straight lines, spotted them into a frame and spray painted it. My very first homemade wire fame!!!
As I framed the piece, I had a constant question in my mind about the tension. When I pulled more here, the material gave there. When a let some material go here, it gathered elsewhere. In some way, I enjoyed this conversation with the material. When is the tension too much, when is it too little. The constant yo yo affect of loneliness and separation. When to cling and when to let go. When to accept and rely on myself and when to reach out and ask for help. All this played itself out as I stitched the piece to the wire frame.
I felt the wire frame worked well. It did no over impose, but rather gently hold in place. Its framed the sentiment of the piece nicely.
I went back to my love of movement and shadow. I started applying light to the piece, and moving it rhythmically. I loved the result. The threads danced across space, pulsating like the ripples of the ocean. I was surprised that there was so much movement in these tensed treads. I guess there is always that ability to manoeuvre. There is always the space to move, to get out, to make your way through.
Back to colour
I trial three different options in terms of adding colour to the piece.
I do one with Indian ink and as the ink dried the colours separate out and I’m left with a lovely green and yellow effect.
I do one with a red thread (I am reminded of Beili Liu’s red thread story), allowing the red thread to travel up the stitched knots.
I do one in watercolour. The colour lies intensely in the middle, and moves outward similar to the Indian ink. There is a definite intensity as a take more and more water out of the mix.
I am undecided.
I begin to stitch into the piece using a red thread. I use a few techniques, and trial a few knots.
One experiment is a line of thread that weaves its way through the piece, tying into the individual knots. This works well with the idea that I have been exploring of the red thread being like the thread that connects people together, Ulner’s artery.
Another experiment knots several threads around each other, binding many of the threads and creating spaces and gaps. Again, I like the way the gaps are being created. and the spaces are opening up.
I’m enjoying the red thread and the concepts. I am still ensure of how I will continue. However, I decide to thread a full length red thread through the pieces, stitching through the knows. Its a time consuming process, with some of the knots barely being able to hold width of the needle.
I want to now see my piece from a variety of different angles in a number of ways:
I play with different lights in the studio and am surprised by the yellow huge that emerges.
It is only by getting up close that I really start to see this piece properly. Every time I try to get the whole piece, the essence of the piece falls apart. Is this piece about the red thread travelling through the knots? Or the knots and their relationship with both sides of the milk fibre. Or more? Or lesS?
I am surprised that lying the piece flat, on a contouring white sheet produces a lovely effect. the ways the shadows ebb and flow.
I take the piece outside and photograph it again. I am becoming more aware of where the placement of light needs to be. How the shadow effect the perceived shape and form.
I enjoy watching the threads move in the breeze. Part of me thinks this piece needs fresh air. Needs a chance to breath.
Again, getting up close is where things get interesting. I am drawn in and drawn away at the same time. I, myself, am ebbing and flowing.
Love looking at these against the trees. there is a little conflict between the detail of the bark and the detail of the knots. But they move in the wind. They mirror back the bark and its form. I enjoy their conversation.
I place the knots against a contrasting background. This is where the knots start to be able to stand out for themselves. The rhythms and lyrical quality comes to the fore. I can begin to read the music sheet, the song is beginning to play.
The experimentation continues…..
In my time here, this book has had a significant influence on that way I think. Ingold discusses the creation of artwork like a journey. He talks about the process of making as a process of finding oneself. As Ingold states ’In the act of making the artisan couples his own movements and gestures – indeed his very life- with the becoming of his materials, joining with and following forces and flows that bring his work to fruition. (Ingold 2013:31)
The creation of this piece has allowed me understand and express the feelings of coming to cardiff for three months. As I figured my way through the process of making this piece, I have figured out what I have felt and why I have felt it. As I understand my situation and reactions better, I am able to put them in their place. sometime fro resolution, sometimes merely to have a voice in this increasingly loud world.
As I research different traditions, as I read various books and materials, as I physically work through the process of making, I learn. I learn about me, I learn about the context and I learn about the material.
I am considering naming this piece “Ulner’s Crossing”. It describes my separation from the life I have in Ireland, the frequent crossing back and forward across the Irish sea and the threads that continue to hold my life together. My intention is to continue to stitch, and to incorporate a red thread into the piece. The experimentation continues.