Monday, 2 December 2013

repetition is the mother of invention

Dailymade #131120

Over two years into posting one dailymade a day and with nearly 800 of these under my belt, the thought that I am starting to repeat myself has crossed my mind a few times.  Recent work however has put this worry to rest.

Dailymade #131119

A couple of weeks ago I started reusing sisal twine which I have an abundance of in the studio. The plan was to make doilies with the coarse twine, but what happened between start of the process (always the same sequence of 6 stitches looped into a circle) and the finish (when my 10m bundle was used up) resulted in a different outcome every time. The instruction I set for myself inevitably seem to lead to freeform making and the range of objects you see illustrated above and below. 

Dailymade #131122

Sure, I could have been stricter with myself and stuck to an exact pattern, but I decided instead to a keep soft focus on what I intended to make and 'riff' with the material. As a result repeating the same simple tying and knotting manoeuvres lead to much innovation and discovery. So, worrying about posting the same old dailymades, I don’t see it happening any time soon...

Dailymade #131121

Sunday, 24 November 2013

making conversation / making connection

Dailymade #130107

Making sculpture can be at times very physically demanding, but gardening is worse and I’ve a sore back to prove it! I travelled to East Sussex yesterday to help out my old friend Julian Wild to plant a hornbeam hedge, and the digging and raking is wot done it.  Still, a few yoga stretches and the improvisation movement class I'm attending tomorrow with Florence Peake at Siobhan Davies will put this right I’m sure.  After spending the day working in the clearing of a wood, we rounded it off with a quick pint  in the village pub talking about art and work before I caught my train back to London.

Indeterminate System by Julian Wild
japanned hardwood, 270 x 170 x 90cm
Dailymade #130909

We discussed making by instruction, something I've been thinking about in recent projects, made more pertinent since I've started working on a 'teach-yourself sculpture' book (see previous post). We also discussed the idea of creative collaboration (see also collaborating with myself and don't tell me, show me!) which led me to suggest to Julian that we develop a piece of work by exchanging something we've made, or maybe even an idea, then transforming it in some way, before handing it back and repeating this process.  It’ll be something of a game of creative chinese whispers, a conversation through making, until both of us have a sense that something have been achieved or resolved, even if it's only a reflection on the creative journey we’ve travelled.

Another World Wide Web
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Making the Connection by Julian Wild

My reasons for wanting to partner with Julian may not be so obvious; he works almost exclusively in metal these days, I work in anything but that.  Julian mostly creates large scale sculptures with a leaning towards the monumental, I tend to make ephemeral objects and installations, often as a result of collaborative processes that have a performative element.  Despite these differences, we share a common visual language, as illustrated in the works pictured here. In short, our work demonstrates an interest in pattern and geometry, mostly explored through the use of lines, whether welded, assembled or woven. I'm excited to see what this process will generate given the differences in our material approach.

Making the Connection by Julian Wild
Cass Sculpture Foundation
Panoramic Pathways
Nottingham Castle Museum

So, let's get this creative conversation going.  Below is what I’m handing over to Julian, not an object but an instruction.  Let's see what comes back...

Dailymade #131114

Thursday, 21 November 2013

reuse / remake / reinvent (and repeat)

It is that time of year again… The leaves are turning a brighter shade of red and yellow and design students at Camberwell College of the Arts are hacking into old pieces of furniture and trading parts to make new from old.  It is one of my favourite projects of the academic year and it is too bad I wasn’t in college this week to see the outcome of all their good work.

After a briefing including an introduction to Martino Gamper's 100 chairs in a 100 days in a 100 ways project, students started stacking and installing their items of furniture in the yard and park opposite the college building as you see pictured here.

As a result of introducing the project, I'm practicing what I've been preaching with renewed enthusiasm and am reusing materials at the studio to remake and reinvent. Keep your eyes peeled on this week's dailymades to see the outcome of this work. Meanwhile, last year’s reuse / remake / reinvent project can be viewed here.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

don't tell me, show me!

Words are false friends when introducing a creative activity. You can easily fall into the trap of being too prescriptive and as a result 'end-gaming' the outcomes that should be about discovery and giving participants a chance of finding their own voice and means of expression. There is always a desire when leading an activity to constantly provide, to fill every minute with things to do, stuff to handle. This sometimes gets in the way of participants generating material themselves with autonomy, authorship and agency.

Meet me at the Albany is a program I am involved with organised by the Albany Centre in partnership with Entelechy Arts, providing creative activities from singing to sewing and from circus to photography for the over 60s.  My desire is to put creative collaboration (see also previous post) at the core of these sessions. I also think making art here should not simply be a means to enhance well-being, a sense of self and the building of a community, but be an end in itself.

The strategy I’m adopting is to rely heavily on visual resources, such as these illustrated, so to curb the reliance on words to initiate the activity. I also aim to have the work displayed as it is produced, negotiating this with the participants and working with them as curators as much as artists.

One month into the program there is already talk of hosting a Meet me at the Albany exhibition in 2014 (I’m also secretly holding out for a publication!). Thinking of these sessions not as workshops but events, one might think of the exhibition next year as a retrospective, showcasing moments of the Meet me at the Albany program.

Objects in the images above are the resources brought in at the start of the last session at the Albany on October 29th.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

collaborating with myself

‘The real issue is not how do you find your voice, but how to get rid of it’ – Phillip Glass

Can this be the benefit of creative collaboration?  Not according to Sally Potter. It’s ok to relinquish your voice if you have one, but some of us don’t have had that privilege. If you’re lucky enough to have a voice, own it and celebrate it! Collaboration is all too often an excuse to mask the embarrassment of claiming authorship for something she argues.  Mmm, now there's something to argue about…

This and other ideas on creative collaboration were shared in a panel discussion at Central St Martins, an event part of Dance Umbrella 2013 held earlier this month, where a number of speakers working across film, theatre and dance talked about the subject from directed collaboration to shared authorship. Working as I do in participatory settings, this was of interest to me and not least because of my recent involvement in a couple of projects with Entelechy Arts.

One of these is Ambient Jam, a unique programme of movement and sensory-based work with adults and young people who have profound and multiple disabilities. Many company members have physical disabilities combined with learning disabilities preventing them from expressing in words their experiences, interests and needs. In these sessions, the body and its senses provide the ways and means for expression and communication through improvisation, social dance and live movement. The multi-sensory workshops and short term projects that arise from them lead to a creative dialogue between all involved.

Contributing to these workshops, primarily as a visual artist, has challenged my understanding of what participation and creative collaboration is.  In a situation where verbal communication cannot be relied on, who facilitates what, who leads who, and whose creativity is explored isn’t so clear anymore. You have to forget what you know, loose your ‘voice’ as it were, and be completely in the ‘moment’ for the creative exchange to be meaningful. The outcome is you do find your voice in unexpected places. As the dancer and choreographer Akram Khan put it in the talk referred to above, to hear music we sometime need to stop playing and simply hold the flute to the wind.

What have these pictures got to do with any of the above you may ask? Well, images of Ambient Jam can be seen on this link, meanwhile I've illustrated here images taken while dismantling my installation at Nottingham Castle. Even when working alone, we are collaborating with our memory and our acquired knowledge. The dismantling of the work led to the production of objects that were the result not only of a collaboration between myself, but also the material I worked with, the site and the weather.  The process was planned and methodical, but they were also happy accidents that were embraced and lead to what you see pictured here.

Monday, 23 September 2013

green-fingered making

I've spent a fair bit of time this last week writing a synopsis for a book on sculpture in order to meet a publisher’s deadline.  This done, I am going through some notes taken recently during landscape gardener Dan Pearson’s Sunday sermon for The School of Life at Conway Hall and drawing parallels between gardening and making. Using plant materials for weaving as I do I am already tuned in to the connection between gardening and making, but I’m now asking myself the following questions: is gardening a form of making, or is making is a form of gardening?

Dan's subject was commitment, a word which has many negative associations - obligation, liability, restriction of freedom... He proceeded to demystify this by talking us through his own associations with the word with relation gardening. Below is a transcription of the notes I took during his speech where I’ve taken the liberty to replace the word 'gardening' with 'making' (I hope Dan won't mind) in order to address the question above.

craft - practical knowledge is acquired through doing

knowledge – making shows us a slower ongoing continuity which contrasts with our increasingly fractured accumulation of knowledge

process – making completely absorbs us in an activity / process is pleasure

investment – making is rewarding in itself / making give us a sense of things being ever changing

dreaming – we make in order to dream

contemplation – making makes us appreciate slower rhythms

control – editing and deciding what is important is unavoidable when making

planning making requires you to keep an eye on the future

timing – making requires us to be in the moment as things might only happen once and for a very short period of time

sowing – making provides us with a sense of evolution

faith and hope – seeing a bright side of a wet summer (which allows things to grow and mature)

the micro and the macro – making brings together the past, the present and the future (in a borrowed landscape)

grieving making is not about beginnings or endings but about process, change and transformation / making gives you a chance to recreate yourself

acceptance – nature will claim what you have made

connection –  making connects memories and the future in unusual ways

Reading the list above I realise these provide a much needed antidote to the fetishisation of objects that is all too common in the visual arts - taking time, allowing things to grow and change, creating connections with materials, history and the environment are fundamental. Now wouldn't these topics make great chapter headings for my how-to book on making and sculpture? 

pictures above are of Dan Pearson's Long Border, 
designed for his exhibition Green Fuse at the Garden Museum,
and taken on September 1st, 2013.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

in the studio with me

portrait by David Sandison

Very nice to have thoughts about your work written by someone else for a change, so I’m seizing the opportunity to post these here, as published in The Independent on Saturday. Enough said, over to Karen Wright…

Thursday, 29 August 2013

it ain't nothing without you...

'Art isn't what you make, but what you make happen'
- Jeremy Deller

When working on participatory projects, the challenge always is to know how much information to impart to the participants. Saying too much can result in diminished creative input from the group. So how do you get the most from the participants? How do you best capitalise on their creative ambitions while also managing artistic control over the piece? How do you make on the spot decisions when exploring new creative ideas? These are some of the questions I asked myself during the Delve Deeper Intensive with Helen Carnac and Laïla Diallo last month at Siobhan Davies.

Choreographers by nature of their work are likely to be more familiar with this than other artists. I was most impressed with Laïla’s delivery of various tasks she set to the group: economical, measured, open ended.  It prevented us from ‘end-gaming’ what the outcome would be and helped us embrace the unexpected while also valuing the minutiae of whatever we were doing.

A large part of my installation in the Make Believe exhibition at Nottingham Castle, separate from the weaving between trees (see previous post), involved using fencing pins in the lawn, as you would pins in a lace pillow, to produce ‘lace’ around the grounds of the castle.

To prepare for this I practiced various stitches in the studio on an actual lace pillow and drew up a pattern to follow when making the work on site.  However as soon as we started, the pattern had to be scrapped. The action of working the sisal twine using custom made bobbins to cover the grounds lead me to rework the pattern I had and make up new stitches as we worked our way across the lawn.  What guided me through this was allowing the participants to find their own way of working with the materials and each other. This improvised method, based on set manoeuvres, proved the best way of making the ‘lace’ in the end.

It’s nice to think that with a different group, the outcome would have been very different, and without anyone, the piece could not have been realized at all.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

taking on the squirrel super-highway...

A gardener once told me the best way to catch squirrels is to hose them down with water. Their tail gets so heavy they can hardly move. You then seize that moment to throw a blanket over them and grab your humane rodent trap or shotgun, depending on your persuasion, to remove the furry vandals from your garden. Problem solved!  That’s the theory anyway…

follow the red path...
... and the blue one to the left,

My current installation Panoramic Pathways at the Nottingham Castle Museum was damaged the other week due to squirrel activity. It seems one of the stitched pathways crosses over a squirrel super-highway and some sisal was gnawed.  These furry foes hate change apparently and evidence of this on their patch is likely to be challenged.  They stop minding after a year apparently, but that’s no good to me given the work is up for a couple of months only.

duck under...
... and swoop over,
then take a breather and enjoy the view.

As the hosepipe method is not an option on the castle grounds, I went up to Nottingham and repaired the piece with Helen Ansell, one of the volunteers who originally helped with the making of the installation. Together we worked out the most efficient way of doing the repairs, exchanging tips and drawing/ writing these down as instructions for further reference. We’re now ready to take the bushy tailed vandals on!

zig-zag your way along...

In the meanwhile, posted here are a few images taken by John Hartley during the making and filming of the piece.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride…

... and finish with a flourish!

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

nothing can ever be the same again...

repetition is transformative

More thoughts on Sharing Making Moving, Independent Dance’s summer intensive at Siobhan Davies Studios – see also previous post.

actions can remain the same
but intention changes everything
undoing is one way of making
making is moving
movement is change
all making is improvised
through movement we are in touch with the absolute
- Colin McLean (on Buddhist prayer wheels)