Sing your own Song
I was delighted to be asked to exhibit at the MAKE Symposium 2020 in Cork, Ireland. It was a collaborative project between Crawford College of Art and Design and the Theatre Department of UCC, with a handful of makers (me included) and a handful of performance artists. The theme of the Symposium was around Art and Labour, the history of hand made on art practises. Having spent the last few years hand making paper and hand weaving from a frame, it seemed like a natural fit.
As I attempted to pull together the themes for “Hand Project 2020′, I began to think about what happens when I build materials and sculptures by hand. I began to recognise, more than anything, that there is a rhythm, a movement and a sense of flow to the making. Did this rhythm come from my movements or that of the materials?
One of the most beautiful aspects of making is that you bring your own unique expression to the material, and as you meet the material, you both do a dance together, which Tim Ingold calls ‘a dance of intimacy‘, to create something new. The material is a guide, a teacher, as it allows me to explore all those corners of my soul. As I started the process of weaving for this piece, I began to think about the uniqueness of my hands, my fingerprints, as they wove in and out of the warp and weft of the weave. I began to consider how knowing more about myself, listening deeply to my own tune, essentially lead me to a greater self awareness.
I chose a hand dyed wool from a local wool shop and found myself immediately in the tension of making. I had to unwind the large knotted wool and roll into a ball, ready for weaving. This process took much longer than expected as I got completely lost in this knotted and wound up material. But eventually, after many hours of dismay, I got there!
I found an old frame, made from coated wire, and began to coil the wool around the frame, as if to hold the piece in place. I was reminded to Eva Hesse’s work of coiling and began to think about what the coiling was doing to the piece. It was containing the piece, probably more tightly than I ever would have imagined, into a frame of material. The wire disappeared as the hand dyed wool began to show its pattern.
As I then placed the warp on the frame, something interesting began to happen. The frame began to warp and curl up under the tension. This tension, felt by me since I began, translated itself into the frame. It now stood, liked the bow of a musical instrument, tense and ready. It reminded me of a harp, and the warp threads as the strings. The tune began to gather momentum.
As this was a collaborative project, we would meet the performers from UCC to discuss our techniques. It was interesting being watched as I made and explained my techniques. As I spoke, I could see others were interpreting what I was doing in their own unique ways, taking pieces that were of interest to them.
So I began the process of weaving, in and out, back and forth, under and over. The soft wool held the underlying beat nicely and the rhythm was set.
Randomly, I would tear pieces of Abaca paper that I had hand made recently, each torn fragment a different shape and size, and began to weave them into the piece. This would interrupt the rhythm and create highs and lows in the sound.
As I weaved in more and more torn paper, it would become compressed by next lines of wool. The paper folded and took on the appearance of an accordion, with some notes being short and sharp, while other notes extended for longer.
I played with the background as I wove, using paper, paintings, rugs and table tops. Each allowing me to see the song in a different environment.
The more I made, the louder the song grew and the more shape it took. Again, the material acted as a guide and allowed me to consider my song. I always loved the idea that we are all unique beings, each with our own fingerprint, and that we all have our own song. We all have our own expression, we see the world through our own lens, we hear, smell, touch and taste the world through our own senses. In a world where we spend our lives being told what the think, how to feel and how to behave, it becomes difficult to express this uniqueness. As we share openly, we compare ourselves to others and look to others for insights/opinions and expertise.
Was I able to hear my own song in all the noise around me? If I couldn’t hear my own song, how able was I to form my own path and make my own decisions about myself? The more I saw my own song emerge, the more I questioned and challenged my thinking.
As my thoughts swirl in my head and my feelings swirled around my body, I started getting a bit stuck. The piece felt contained, all these right angles, all these horizontal lines, and I was struggling to breath. Was I imposing too much on the material? Was I brave enough to really listen and really hear? I took a break, and headed to London for some inspiration. I went to a large art fair called Collect 2020, an annual show dedicated to craft and design. My senses were filled with colours, materials and patterns. I saw this beautiful weave by Finnish artist Aino Kajaniemi, which seemed to be a drawing of a young playful girl. Oh how the horizontal line flowed around her, making space for her presence.
I reflected on my own piece. I realised the fragments of torn paper had become overly compressed by the wool, the strict linear form had created a rhythm that was too steady. This was not me. This was a rigid me, perfectionist and critical. A part of who I am, yes, but not the totality of me. I returned home full of inspiration.
I slowly, fragment by fragment, opened up the torn pieces of paper. Like the opening up of the accordion, the paper had been imprinted with weight of the wool. The paper finally felt free, stretching into the weave and finally expressing the fullness of their existence. Yet, I knew, that the paper could never have gained such a beautiful impression without first being held tightly by the wool. I reflected on how important my initial holding in this world had been. The foundation provided by my parents, my education, my early stories. I acknowledged all of these as I continued to stretch out the piece, feeling a sense of deep pride of all that had brought me to this point.
It was beautiful to watch the soft wool begin to ebb and flow. To see how the song finally began to own its space, visible to the world. This is the first time I had made a weave that was 360° visible. It was no longer appropriate to hide against a wall. The piece needed space in order to be seen.
Now ready, I hung the piece “Sing your own Song” in the gallery, amongst the other beautiful art works. It hung in the middle of the room, the song hanging in the air. Yes, there was a vulnerability at being so exposed in the room. But I did not shy away from this. For now, it felt correct to hold this central stage.
Title and Year: Sing your own Song (2020)
Material: Hand dyed wool from Vivi Trading Co, handmade abaca paper, wire frame
Dimensions: L 84cm W 56cm H 16cm