Sunday, December 9, 2007

Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons

Tuesday 4th December, Carols and dinner at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons. My husband was given a pair of tickets for this event, each year Le Manoir puts on six evenings of Carols at the local church in Great Milton, Oxfordshire. On the evening we attended it was the Winchester Cathedral's Boys Choir singing, they were of course superb. The evening begins with a champagne and canapes reception in Le Manoir with a harpist playing in the main lounge. Log fires are burning and each room has it's own colour scheme for Christmas decorations, all linked with a touch of gold. The short walk to the church is along torch lit paths amongst twinkling lights in the trees. The church has been lit with hundreds of candles and is surprisingly warm. The readings, on this occasion, were by Charles Collingwood and Judy Bennet (Brian and Shula from the Archers). On return to Le Manoir we were seated at large tables of 10 - 12 people for dinner. We were lucky enough to be seated with the Manager and his wife who, like the rest of the guests, were very good company with lots of tales about Le Manoir. Dinner was everything one would expect from a Michelin starred restaurant and the service impeccable, when I said no to wine (as I was driving) I was offered non-alcoholic cocktail instead and fresh peppermint tea was offered as an alternative to coffee after the meal. To say that the meal was pumpkin soup, confit of foir gras, steamed halibut, fillet steak and chocolate desert followed by coffee and pettit fours does not begin to describe the experience.
At this time of year the gardens are not at their best but I intend to return in the summer for lunch and a day spent enjoying the gardens and their sculptures.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Fabrications, Craft in the 21st Century

This symposium was held at the Victoria & Albert Museum on Friday 23rd November to coincide with the exhibition Out of the Ordinary.

Collaboration was one of the recurring themes of the day and how artists 'claimed' work that they had not fabricated, the concept was theirs but they had used the technical skills of others to fabricate the finished product. One example of this was Grater Divide by Mona Hatoum, this 6ft high screen was fabricated at Mike Smith Studios in mild steel, the steel was laser cut and then worked by hand.

It was noted that studio assistants go back a long way, Rembrant had 50 assistants so much of his later work was not by his own hand.

Another area that was covered by more than one speaker was curatorship and how works are displayed - the white room is not a neutral setting but it offers a safe haven in which to test theories in art. The amount of space around an object confers a degree of importance on that object and plinths elevate objects and brings in the tradition of placing sculpture, the logic of the monument. Craft objects are often placed on plinths because of their relatively small size. Hildur Bjarnadottir's Belgian Linen Crochet Cloth was placed on a plinth but the fact that it was allowed to drape over the sides referenced it's 'homely' origins but it was still elevated from the domestic activity.

I was interested in the comments by Sorrel Herschberg of the British Council on the way that many people prefer to call themselves Designers or Makers rather than Craftsmen. In the West craftsmen are still regarded as having a narrow vision and being restricted to one medium or field . Max Lamb has a compulsion to make but calls himself a Designer as that is what he trained as, He works in cast copper and pewter and is based in Cornwall where these metals were once locally produced which adds value to the story of how the items were made. Sorrel commented that design has a power relationship over craft, this is probably based on the more commercial nature of design which always has one eye on the market place.

Paper-cuts are 'in' at the moment and Professor CJ Lim, the keynote speaker, used this technique in some of his work. Kara Walker uses black paper silhouettes to comment on social problems and it is the basis of Paul Chan's video installation First Light (right) which was projected onto the floor at the Serpentine Gallery in 2006

Laurie Britton-Newell, who curated Out of the Ordinary, commenting on the current resurgence of interest in Craft said that people feel out of touch with the origins of things and that previous generations were more familiar with the making process.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Out of the Ordinary

Out of the Ordinary, Crafts in the 21st Century is currently on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
For Everything and Nothing Catherine Bertola has collected dust from around the museum and used it to texture and colour giant paper-cuts based on wallpaper patterns. Dust tells the hidden history of a place and those who use it.

Naomie Filmer is fascinated by the parts of the body that are usually not celebrated, such as the back of the knee or elbow. For Body Map she has cast small areas of the body, such as the heel, in silver. These pieces have been magnified and isolated inside glass lenses making them extraordinary.
The Book of Humanity, the empty book is a stunning installation of hand cut red tissue paper falling from three suspended books by Lu Shengzhong. Each stream of paper ends with a small figure, representing the fragility of man. On the opposite wall are stacked black cases full of hand cut figures, also of hand cut red tissue paper.
Capacity by Anne Wilson is, for me, the most stunning piece in the exhibition. It is a fusion between art and science and captures the moment of the lungs being filled with air. The transparency of glass and its ability to reveal is perfectly suited to the invisibility of the air it portrays.
Anne Wilson has used thousands of fragments of lace in her Topologies installation. There is an important play on scale in this piece which counteracts the preciousness of lace - where one flower is precious, a field full is less so and the same effect is gained here. Showing alongside the installation is a stop-motion video of the piece being installed, accompanied by a soundtrack of the threads, pins and hammers at work.

V&A Entrance Tunnel

The entrance tunnel to the Victoria & Albert Museum is being used for a series of installations. The current work is, The anti room of the Mae Queen, by Simon Periton, who has been working in cut-out paper for the last decade. The delicacy and decorative qualities of these pieces is juxtaposed by the solidity of the metal in which they are worked.

I was particularly taken with this lantern. It is based on disintegrating knitting but looks very like a bobbin lace pattern that I like to distort (Half stitch and net ground). Disintegrating textiles is an area that I intend to look at in the next semester.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Urban Field Symposium

Urban Field was a series of exhibitions exploring the relationship of makers and their environment. Rurally based willow workers showed in urban London, makers from London and the rural south-west showed in the market town of Farnham and urban interior design was shown on the edge of Dartmoor at Bovey Tracey. The Symposium was an opportunity for reflection on the outcomes of these experiments.

Deirdre Figueiredo spoke about the work of Craftspace who build links between urban artists and audiences by involving them with crafts activities. A recent project was Transforming Crafts at Elsmere where they brought together Junko Mori an urban blacksmith working in cramped conditions in Manchester and Chris Stokes who runs a large forge in rural Oswestry. Their exchange of practice and dialog showed the breadth of techniques associated with blacksmithing in their collaborative work 'Bindweed' shown above.

Love Jonsson introduced the audience to the way Sweden had tried to integrate its crafts people into the international community by inviting overseas artists to work in Sweden. One of the eventual results of this was the Swedish group 'We Work in Fragile Material' exhibiting at Happy Campers in New York in 2006. Individually the members work in glass and ceramics (hence the group title) but for this exhibition they produced a giant fabric Troll, this was a representation of the way crafts people are seen as Trolls who live in the countryside and shun modern technology. The piece was an affirmation of the joy of making by hand and testament to the crafters ability to move across disciplines.
After lunch we were treated to a brilliantly illustrated talk on the 'subversive' knitting scene in USA by Sabrina Gschwandtner of the publication KnitKnit. Amongst other things she showed the work of the group Knitta who are known for their knitted graffiti, they regularly 'tag' areas of cities by wrapping objects with brightly coloured knitting. Trees, lampposts, railings, car antennae and door handles have been tagged from Los Angeles to Paris and the group regularly get requests to work in peoples hometowns or on specific objects such as bicycles.
She also explained the work of Microrevolt who are a knitting group trying to change attitudes by involving large numbers of people in small, passive, protests that grow to into huge movements that have loud voices.
The afternoon was rounded off with talks by Dr Ian Hunter and Celia Larner from Littoral Arts Trust, a Rochdale based crafts charity. Dr Hunter was keen to make us aware of the agricultural changes that are coming and how they will impact on our lives. Agricultural policies are in place that will change our landscape with willow taking over as a major crop for bio-fuel. This will produce an ideal opportunity for the crafts to re-engage with agriculture and for the core skills of willow work/basketry to lead the way by adding value to agricultural produce/waste. The work of urban basket maker Lee Dalby is firmly based on traditional methods but he also works in modern free-form structures.

Celia went on to tell us about her trip to 'Sheep is Life' the Navajo celebration of the sheep in USA. Whether through felt making or weaving the crafts women are adding value to very poor quality wool and their work is in high demand by both private collectors and museum curators.

November 11th- Brighton

Steve and I don't need much by way of an excuse to take a trip to the sea, so bad train connections saw us heading for Brighton to collect our daughter who was staying with friends. We arrived to an amazing vista of four separated rain clouds emptying themselves on the horizon at sea whilst we watched from bright sunlit beach. The other thing that immediately struck me was how lacy the ruins of the burn-out pier looked.
We took a walk through the Narrows, where there are a wide variety of small independent shops and managed to buy a couple of Christmas presents before lunch. This was followed by a walk to show Anna the outside of the Brighton Pavilion - It's a long time since I was last in Brighton and I'd forgotten what a wondrous confection it is!
As we made out way back to the car I spotted these amazing gates at the entrance to a fairly new complex of flats about 100meters from the seafront.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Textiles Collection

Linda Brassington introduced us to the on-line resources at the Visual Arts Data Service these include the Textile collection of UCCA, slides of students work from Goldsmiths College and the shoe collection from Cordwainers at London College of Fashion.

The Textiles Collection includes Coptic textiles from 800 - 1000, Kashmir shawls, African strip weaving and lace as well as more recent works by Peter Collingwood. (right)

I found the slides of students work from Goldsmiths fascinating, they are arranged chronologically and include Diploma, BA and postgraduate levels.
The piece shown is by Susan Tabor.

It was also interesting to learn about the Cordwainers shoe collection (which is in storage) as my daughter is studying Footwear there and knew nothing of it's collection.

Sculpture at Goodwood

The Cass Sculpture Foundation displays over 70 specially commissioned monumental British sculptures in a landscape of woodland and grassy glades. All of the works are for sale and each year approximately one third of the works are replaced with new commissions. Through the winter months many of the works are repositioned meaning that they can be viewed against a different backdrop, an enclosed woodland clearing shows a piece quite differently to an open grassy vista. Being an open air site also means that the works are affected by the weather conditions, bright blue skies affecting the works quite differently to dark brooding clouds.

One of the pieces that I had gone to see was System No 19 by Julian Wild. This abstract work explores line, space, maths and the essence of form and shape. I was lucky enough to visit on a sunny day and so see the shadows that it forms which, although difficult to capture on grass, add an extra dimension to the work.

Ellis O'Connell's Loop is a beautifully sinuous piece which shows strikingly different shapes as one moves around the form.

It also provided some hauntingly broody shadows from the surrounding trees.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Rezia Wahid - Crafts Study Centre

The shape of things: textiles of Rezia Wahid is at the Crafts Study Centre until 5 January 2008.The shape of things is intended to be a series of ten projects where artists working with crafts media are commissioned to produce site specific work for a variety of sites around the country.

Rezia Wahid's work is described as 'Woven Air', she works with the finest yarns including silk and merino wool which allow light and air to pass through the work and so add an extra dimension.
The weavings are translucent and transparent and move with the slightest of air currents.

The exhibition comprises 18 major pieces, 12 of which are hung in the main gallery. Some are displayed in the glass cases along with a selection of sketch books which are as beautiful as the works themselves. There are 7 smaller, framed pieces for sale in the Reception. The exhibition also includes a video of the cloths being used in collaboration with a dance group.

An additional pleasure for me were the shadows cast on the floor by the lighting.

Tate St Ives

The new exhibition at Tate St Ives focuses on the work of Constructionists Kenneth and Mary Martin. The exhibition runs through to 13th January 2008.

Order + Change (No Chance), Kenneth Martin

Inversions, 1967, Mary Martin
Their work occupies three of the main galleries, with the main atrium over looking Porthmeor beach housing a complimentary exhibition of work from the Tate Collection of Modernist artists who were working in St Ives during the post-war period.

Also on display are ceramics from Bernard Leach and his circle who were so influential on the development of Studio Pottery.

The John Wells Centenary Display occupies The Studio and includes many well known works such as Aspiring Forms and Sea Bird Forms.

The fifth gallery houses a display of the work of Artist in Residence Jonty Lees, exploring the eccentricities of human activity.

St Ives

Black Friday, that's what the traffic agencies call the Friday at the beginning of the autumn half term. Our journey to St Ives took five and a half hours instead of our usual four or less.
St Ives harbour from the lifeboat station
My mother lives on the outskirts of St Ives with views over the bay towards Godrevy Lighthouse. It's a fabulous place to be with great views, wonderful walking on cliffs and moors and the art tradition means that there are dozens of galleries in the area.

This was to be a generally relaxed weekend with meals out (Ocean Grill and Porthminster Cafe) and much walking the dog on the beach.
The Hayle Estuary is one area where we can walk the dog on the beach all year, the water is always these fabulous shades of blue and the sand silvery. This is one of the areas often painted by John Miller.

Summer Sandbar, John Miller

Monday, October 22, 2007

Lineapelle, Leather Fair - Bologna

Warning! Not suitable for vegetarians!
My daughter is studying shoe design at Cordwainers, London College of Fashion. She is currently undertaking a placement at Conker Shoes of Totnes, Devon. As part of her research for her final year project she wants to look at sustainably produced leather, Conkers is also interested in increasing their eco credentials and so gave her time off to attend the Lineapelle leather fair, I tagged along to see Bologna.

Leather to me means cow, pig or sheep skin but at Lineapelle there were also kangaroo, reindeer, buffalo, crocodile, lizard and fish skins (and probably many more I didn't notice!)
To the right are fish skins from Atlantic Leathers of Iceland, the top one is perch and the bottom is wolf fish, their main production is salmon skins.

I love soft 'glove' leathers but Anna was looking for much thicker skins suitable for the strain of pulling over a shoe last and for vegetable tanned leathers that she can colour herself.

Most of the leathers at the show were traditionally tanned using chemicals and chrome which is decidedly environmentally unfriendly! I have to admit that I thought many of the colours and finishes that the leathers were available in were also visually pretty awful, bright garish colours and tacky effects seemed a waste of good leather to me. CFM produce foils for heat pressing onto fabric that can also be used on leather, I'm afraid I think they should stay with the fabrics where they are often very effective.

One set of samples that Anna picked up were of scent impregnated leathers, neither of us were quite sure what anyone would actually use them for but she thought they would be good for amusing the staff in the workshop. The scents are, from left to right, strawberry, lavender, orange, mint and lemon. Perhaps they're meant to counteract smelly feet! Surprisingly the company who made these also produced a good range of vegetable tanned naturally dyed leathers in a range of thicknesses.

One of the busier stands had lots of boxes of samples for people to help themselves from. I never found out what the skins were (my Italian doesn't extend much beyond a menu) but the main point of interest were the patterns that had been laser cut into the hair of the animal. The dark lines in the pictures show where the laser has burnt away the hair so that the leather shows through, this is a technique I recognise from the demonstrations at LMU.

Some of the stands in the tannery halls had manned entry desks and were obviously not interested in small businesses but made for a very interesting fashion show. I was highly amused by the middle aged Italian men in immaculate patent leather shoes, with sharp tailored suits, crisp white shirts and dark glasses - perhaps I wasn't the only one who thought some of the colours a little too bright?

Flying in early on Wednesday morning to spend the rest of the day at the fair, I had chosen a hotel that was close by, which proved to be very nice with an excellent restaurant. An early start on Thursday gave us until mid afternoon at the fair and then the rest of the day to look around Bologna, which is a beautiful city that I would like to revisit at my leisure. The last bus to Forli Airport left at 7.10, with the flight at 10.35 meaning that even without checked bags it was 2am Friday before we got home.

What Future for Eco Textile Design?

Textile Futures Research Group, 11 October 2007 at the ICA.

An afternoon of discussions followed by and evening of 'Question Time' on the theme of eco-responsibility and sustainability. 'Closing the loop', 'taking action and responsibility' and 'up-cycling' were the main messages that came from the pannelists.

I was interested to note that 'Cradle to Cradle' was wirtten as long ago as 2002, it was obviously at the absolute cutting edge at the time and is still well ahead of the majority of peoples thinking on recycling.

The idea that sustainability is an essential part of good design and not a 'bolt-on' needs to be taught from school level upwards if it is to really become the norm.

What happens to the product beyond the selling point? As a designer it's your responsibility to consider the products future.

Eco-considerations in fashion is like a snowball that has grown so big it won't go away, for some companies it is jumping on the band wagon but others have been battling for a long time to ditch the 'hempy/hairy' image of eco -fashion. M&S have now brought its environmental policies onto the High Street and others are doing the same.

The idea of a ratings system similar to that used on white-goods is popular but will be difficult to standardise. Gap are trying this idea internally in the first instance in order to bring their suppliers (such as dyers) in line. Timberland have a list of ingredients and green index on the box, their method is still under development but it has taught them a lot and they have redesigned some of their products as a result.
I am particularly fond of;

Nature as model
Nature as measure
Nature as mentor

which I believe comes from the book Biomimicry - Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine M Benyus

Useful websites include;

Crafting Beauty in Modern Japan

This small exhibition at the British Museum covers a wide range of crafts including lacquer, ceramics and glass. Many of the contributors have been designated 'Living National Treasures' for their artistry and skill.
Although the textiles in this exhibition are beautiful it is the basketry and metals that truly moved me.
Woven bamboo basket, 'Shallow Stream' (1997) by KATSUSHIRO, Soho captures the rippling motion of a mountain stream as it rushes over its pebble strewn bed. The play of light on the polished bamboo perfectly mirroring the light on moving water.

'Hazy moon silver' (Rogin) is a term that I had not come across before, it is an alloy of three parts copper and one part silver which produces a wonderful softly coloured metal. Amongst an array of beautiful pieces I particularly liked the hammered silver vase, 'Sea Breeze' (1987) by OSUMI Yukie. Again it was the stunning representation of light on water that spoke to me. The lines of waves march across the vessel in direct opposition to the wind, so evocative of the way I see the tides moving into St Ives Bay in Cornwall.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Kurt Jackson - The Cornish Crows

Kurt Jackson works primarily from the St Just area of Cornwall where wild moorland sweeps down to the Atlantic ocean via steep valleys and rugged cliffs. His latest exhibition, at Lemon Street Gallery Truro, focuses on The Cornish Crows (An Bryny Kernow) such as magpies, choughs and jackdaws. It also encompasses his famous land/seascapes including Crow point on the Scillies.

As usual most of the exhibits have sold (I visited on the final day) including my personal favourite We lie on our backs and watch the crows mobbing a buzzard above, (image from the catalogue, cropped). Mixed media on canvas, 122cm x 122cm, £13,500. I've not seen Kurt work on sky like this before, the quality of the light is almost luminous and seems to move as it is viewed from different angles.

Magpie wedding in Harvey's Croft - gorse and morning sunshine, (image from catalogue, cropped) shows Kurt's powerful use of colour, evoking the smell of cinnamon and hum of bees that pervade a Cornish hedge in full bloom. Mixed media, 57 x 59cm, £5,850.

There were less of his trademark huge 'light on water' paintings in this show but his range and depth of study more than compensated, with sketches, etchings and small sculptures being shown alongside watercolour, oils and mixed media pieces.


Last weekend of September brings the annual Westhope Group meeting. We are a group of up to 15 contemporary lacemakers (and allied crafts) who meet at Westhope College for mutual support and inspiration.

Saturday was spent on advanced paper-making with tutor Bobby Britnell. My main interest was in using pulp as a stiffening agent for 3D structures and so spent time experimenting with ways of applying pulp to random string constructions. Experimentation showed that for me the best option was pouring handfuls of pulp onto chosen areas, from a number of directions and then part drying it before adding more. This allowed me to build up certain areas and leave other relatively free from pulp. This is useful as I will not want to obscure the more intricate sections of lace in a structure.
Saturday evening is used for slide/power point presentations. I gave a 20minute presentation on the work that Carol Quarini and I did with on their Sonumbra project. This is something that I hate doing and usually avoid like the devil, however I have decided that it is time that I overcame this reluctance and must get some practice in. It must have gone down OK as two people afterwards asked why I don't give talks more often.
Sunday was used to discuss the work that will be used for our stand at the Knitting & Stitching shows next year. Some of the members need pushing to raise their game for these prestigious shows and others had to be convinced that the work could not have been shown anywhere else!
Embroiderer Ann Wheeler is co-ordinating the stands and Carol Quarini and I will be doing the staging with her at NEC and Alexander Palace.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Tetsuo Fujimoto Work 01-1

For me the Farnham Experience is textile based and I have visited a number of brilliant exhibitions at the college. These previous visits mean that the town and campus are not quite so new and confusing for me as they are for others.

The large scale hanging in the Library lobby was commissioned as a result of the 'TEXTURAL SPACE' project. Work 01-1 hangs in five sections and is in ttoal 5.5 meters high and 2.75 meters wide.

Much of Fujimoto's work relies on building up layer on layer of random machine stitching to give the work texture and depth.

His work is described as encompassing the macro and the micro, from 20cm the intense layering of stitches confuses the eye, from 2 meters the work engulfs the viewer and it is only from a distance the we can see the dynamic surface of the whole piece.

I see this hanging as being very akin to the first week of the Farnham experience. The initial confusion at the apparent randomness of the room numbering slowly builds into a natural rhythm of comings and goings. We were at first consumed by the intensity of the task of getting to the right places. As our knowledge gradually broadens we can stand a little further back and begin to look to the specific offerings of our specialist departments and tutors. In time, as our knowledge base continues to build, we will stand even further back and reflect upon the much wider whole that is the Farnham MA Experience.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

ETN Conference - Saturday 15th

Full day of stunning lectures. Some of the days most important messages were to use technology for what it is best for - precission and accuracy, to control the techniques and not be controlled by them and that Hand-made is the new luxury!

Janne Kyttanen spoke on the history and future of Rapid Prototyping (or Rapid Manufacturing as he prefers to call it). Products can be manufactured in any shape or size to a tollerence of .1mm, fully articulated and with integrated zips, buttons and buckles within its own packaging. The only drawbacks at the moment are the limited range of materials (nylon, ceramic and metal) and the imagination of commercial buyers. Janne spoke of a future where a customer will be able to walk into a store with an RM machine, having browsed their catalogue on line, call up the product they require, select its colour and size and have it printed on the spot. RM could be used for everything from cutlery to cushions, car parts to custom fitted football boots. Above is a picture of a piece of RM fully articulate metal 'fabric' draped over my finger.

Rachel Wingfield of design duo spoke of bridging the gap between the natural and digital worlds with environmentally responsive textiles.

Sonumbra is a five meter wide 'umbrella' which, in its ultimate form, will have a sun shade canopy with built in photovoltaic cells to collect power during the day, whilst offering shade from the sun, and use that power to light the underside, formed by a network of electro-luminescent wires, after darkness falls.

Sonumbra has been shown at several venues as a movement responsive piece. A 360 degree camera picks up movement and responds by triggering the lighting of strands EL wire, as people move around the structure so the light patterns change.
Further info from

Monday, September 24, 2007

European Textile Network Conference - Friday 14th

Fascinating day of lectures and demos on Digital Craft at the LMU Digital Manufacturing Centre. Demos included Digital Printing and Embroidery and the possibilities of the Laser cutting equipment. The picture is of laser etching on leather (apparently very smelly). Gina Pierce used layering to trigger memories and association. Her research into old maps of Spitalfields is translated into multilayerd printed fabrics, the etching away of the top layer with the laser is like an archaeologist scraping away a layer of soil.

One point that came up in the lectures was that we tend to become selectors and editors when we use digital mediums but that we can use the technology to allow creative minds to innovate.

For me the highlight was the SLS machine in action. Selective Laser Sintering is a form of Rapid Prototyping where 3D items are 'printed' from Nylon, ceramic or metal powders. The layers of powder are .1mm thick and, in the machine we saw 'welded', by a computer guided laser rather like assembling an exceptionally precise 3d slice-form model. The picture shows a SLS 'egg' approx 6cm long.

More info on LMU Manufacturing Centre