Studio methods

Recurrence

I keep coming back to fragments of knit lace retrieved from Herbert Niebling charts. Or they keep coming back to me.

In silk fabric strips:

Lace fragment, silk fabric

 

In hand spun silk and flax, suspended in a web:

Making Time (detail)

 

Revisited later, in fine merino, in a hand made bobbin lace cage:

Ruth Halbert Alight 2013

Alight, 2013. Photo Josh Wells

 

And left in a birch tree at Rud Artist-in-Residence, Dalsland, Sweden:

Fragment, Rud AIR, Sweden, 2014

 

 

Lately, reconsidered in crochet cotton, with mulberry paper.

Paper lace bowl

 

Residency – art in the making not in the made

I had intended, months ago, to write about the process of making the Beverley map, to summarise my residency experience and then show the work in Perth as a conclusion to the experience.

I stalled.

After a long hibernation I have become aware of how my intense experience as artist-in-residence was just the start of what will be an evolving project. I took to Beverley questions about what and how to observe in a new environment, and how to use art-making to explore those questions. In my previous post I describe  collecting information by walking, photographing, collecting and drawing. That research focus changed when my hosts invited me to show my work on the last weekend. I switched from gathering information, ideas and samples for future works, to producing work (or work-in-progress) to hang in the gallery. I also wanted to be part of the established tradition of donating a work I’d made there for the gallery’s collection. With one week of the stay remaining I took the samples I’d dyed from local plants,

Map cloth dyed

and, perhaps influenced by the gliders circling overhead, decided to take an aerial perspective and piece a fabric map of the town site.

Map of town

Sensations that arose while making the pieced map extended beyond cutting and stitching the fabric to my experience of the physicality of moving across the land. I felt the rounded curves of the rolling hills as I shaped the pieces to curve into each other.

Map in progress

Faint odour of plant-dyed fabric recalled walks under gum trees, bark crunching underfoot.

I joined the pieces with vertical black stitches so that the seams stood up like fence lines. The last stitches went in on the final morning. In the gallery I noticed that the Beverley locals who looked at my work saw their familiar town with fresh eyes.

Exhibition view

Back in Perth, I felt unable to call the Beverley map ‘finished’. There was more to it than representing a town map in dyed fabric. In Ground Truthing Paul Carter writes about what a map reveals and conceals, how language, memory and being on-the-ground both enrich and contradict the impression from the air. Being on the ground to collect sensations and materials gave me a means of responding to the particularities of Beverley (physical, historic, cultural) through the process of making. Studying the plan of Beverley and remaking it into a pieced map made clear how the layout of streets and railway had been decided in response to the river Avon. And as the Avon flows into the Swan so the thread of the river leads to Perth where the streets, boundaries and buildings of the city are oriented and shaped by its position on the Swan. Making the Beverley map was not a culmination but a plan for thinking about the city of Perth, and beyond, for a mud map of how to approach any place I choose to observe and remake.

Residency process – fences

Farm fence

I went to Beverley without a pre-conceived plan, so I could respond to what I found there.

I started by thinking about the white gum (wandoo) strainer posts which anchor the ends of fences. Their name, function and form suggested potential material and metaphor. Driving on the district roads there were plenty of fences:Farm fence paddocks

And plenty more rolled up into discarded bundles, replaced by new metal fence posts.Farm fence discardedThe rhythm and tempo of the fence posts and wires as the car went past recalled the rushing past of notes and bar lines on the stave while playing music,

and the movement of the front fences in town as I jogged past every evening.

Town fence 1Town fence 2Town fence 3Town fence 4Town fence 5Town fence 6

It may be a small town, but there was plenty going on. Visitors from nearby towns remarked on the activity and optimism there. I wanted to make some work which could reflect this perception:

the more we are pre-occupied with living, the less we are inclined to contemplate, and that the necessities of action tend to limit the field of vision”  (Henri Bergson).  But it is possible for us to perceive more thoroughly.  Bergson reassures us that through the means of art, such as poetry or painting, things are revealed both in the world and within ourselves that are not ordinarily perceived.

It seemed that the diversity yet camaraderie of the locals was reflected in the variety and continuity of their front fences. Rather than selecting a few (how – the most picturesque? the most idiosyncratic? the oldest?) I decided to create an archive and record all of the front fences of the town. I walked up and down every street, taking photos of the junctions of every fence. I then drew the detail of each junction, spaced evenly along a scroll of paper, one for each street.Town fence drawing in progress

It is a tradition for the artist-in-residence to give a work to the Gallery’s collection. Most of the pieces are landscapes; my fence drawings on kitchen paper seemed too ephemeral.

What about a map?

How to find the way in

In the Wandoo Conservation Park

After finding bones and bark in the Wandoo Conservation Park west of Beverley

110420131247I drove back through the farm lands; fence posts whizzing past, paddocks on both sides.

Murray Bail said that the indent of a paragraph is like the gate to a paddock. It is the way in.  For a long time I have been looking for a way in to a piece of cloth. What is the gate or indent that allows entry? Otherwise it is too much like a painting or photograph, it is just there, take it or leave it, dictating instead of revealing and relating.

The reader can’t take in the paragraph instantaneously, the eye must move along the text, even retrace and repeat if necessary. A visitor to a paddock also has to enter and traverse the paddock. Think of seeding or harvest, going methodically over the paddock ground. As grazing sheep do in their own practised way.

A painter would argue that to properly see a painting the eye must move across the surface. True, but it is possible to have an instantaneous, complete impression in a way that is never possible with text, or land, or the complete qualities of a textile.

To journey two (detail)How to get beyond the surface, to cross over the selvedge or hem.

Is touch the way in?

Ways to make work: Planning or intuiting

It is half a year since I finished studying. As warned by more established friends I am wandering about in hazy, boggy directionless realms, tripping over confusions of ideas and bumping into deadlines. Timelines, proposals, action plans seem forced, their language too stark and linear. So I am accepting my swampy state and slowing down to explore and dream quietly with materials, and time.

I have two works hanging side by side in the studio. They both express what seems to be a recurring theme for me, of combining disparate elements so that the qualities of each are present but together they form a whole that is more than the sum of the parts.  But they were made in quite different ways.

By planning:

Equilateral

For Equilateral I started by choosing a favourite form; a Möbius strip. The width of the kimono fabric and the size of the triangular space in the centre dictated the overall dimensions and so determined the width and length of the piece of hand spun, knitted grey mohair which is the other surface of the quilt. Two different fabrics, quilted together into a form which unites and reveals both surfaces.

Through intuition and chance:

Sometimes a piece evolves unintentionally. From an indigo pot on the go, a piece of silk and a plastic cylinder I made a (very) rough version of pole-wrapped shibori. It went into a pile of fabrics on the table until its mid blue undulations lay next to a warm brown length of layered and stitched fabrics which I’d put together with no end in mind than to  be something to stitch on in the good company of other makers. And now, after a gentle three years, I am putting the final stitches into Two journey to.

Something as simple as observing how I make reassures me that I can continue.