Sense of Place

It’s been a busy few months. I was invited to give a couple of talks about my Kombucha research work. Cleveland College of Art & Design (CCAD) and the Hutton Priory Patchers textile group from Preston were both lovely audiences, keen to know more. My Kombucha research was met with some disbelief that a fabric could be actually grown from microorganisms. So often this baffles people.

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I took along sketchbooks full of Kombucha samples as well as larger pieces for the audience to touch and experience. It hadn’t occurred to me that once they knew that Kombucha was a bi-product of a healthy tea drink, some of my audience proceeded to taste it!

In all the time I’ve been working with Kombucha and despite its apparent health properties, I’ve not been able to bring myself to drink the tea or eat the harvested fabric. Maybe one day!

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I was pleased also to be invited to contribute to the microbiology blog from the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM)

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This was again to disseminate the work I’ve been doing in growing Kombucha fabric exploring the crossover between art and science. I was delighted to be able to include so many images, from conception through the different stages of growth to the harvested fabric. Following on from this, I shared the article on the Growing Materials Google Community where other people grow materials from an array of different living organisms.

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Doing these talks and writing the article has made me aware that I’ve still got much to learn and explore with Kombucha, yet it’s had to take a bit of a back seat due to other commitments and my present interest in printmaking and drawing work.

I continue to challenge myself with the notion of how to make time visible. Whether this is by capturing changes that happen over time or capturing a fleeting moment in time or by working with time itself.

I was invited to exhibit some of my prints alongside three other artists in an exhibition titled Elements of Landscape at Blackburn Museum Art Gallery. I was already exploring landscapes through monotypes and drypoint so it was the ideal opportunity to push this work further.

Still very much drawn to the sea and coast I wanted to try and capture a sense of place, atmosphere and change. So working with time in a different way, I immersed myself in the moment, creating one-off monotypes.

I like the quality and subtlety of the marks that can be achieved through printmaking, working quickly and spontaneously. I also like the sense of ambiguity of an image, not quite representational but with a hint of what might be. Monotypes are inherently unique with no two prints being the same. I like that.

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I am drawn to wild, desolate places where weather and nature dominate. I often escape to the west coast of Scotland with its ever-changing weather conditions, driving rain, mist and turbulent seas. I love to be completely immersed in the landscape with large expanses of sea and sky and the isolation it brings. There is something quite satisfying being at one with the elements and feeling the wind in my face. I like to sit and watch the changing light and the endless motion of the tide, being in and part of the landscape.

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Drawing and working outside, directly from the surroundings helps me capture what I’m sensing and feeling. My drawing work is always an investigation, trying to make sense of what I perceive and my physical engagement with the landscape. The connection between me, the landscape and the marks I create give the work spontaneity seldom achieved in the studio. As Norman Ackroyd once said It’s exciting painting in stormy weather…… What I hope for most when I’m painting is for all my rational thoughts to disappear: my eye, heart and hand become connected, and then I can distil the real essence of the landscape.

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20180408_123543 copy 2Since early December last year, running parallel with my own practice, I have been working for textile artist Alice Kettle on an ambitious nationwide project called ‘stitch a tree’. The project aims to connect communities and individuals to show support for displaced people around the world.

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Individuals from all walks of life, all ages have been contributing to the project by stitching a tree and we’ve received between one and two thousand trees! Although we’ve come to the end of receiving stitched trees, the hard work has now started in hand sewing these to large panels of fabric to create a ‘forest’, which will be exhibited at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester late summer. You can find more information about this project at Alice’s website.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the work and project develops.

 

 

Catching the Tide

Although I’ve not been writing about it here, I am still exploring and experimenting with Kombucha albeit on a smaller scale but as yet there’s nothing new to share. I’ve also been exploring salting different fabrics and it’s interesting how different fibrous material response to the saline water, forming different types of salt crystal and formations.

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I am still exploring the notion of making time visible and I’ve been spending quite a lot of time enjoying creating monotypes. Working with time in a different way, I like the immediacy, immersing myself in the moment, creating one off pieces. I like the sense of atmosphere that can be created and how the ink of the monotype records every touch, mark and texture, developing its own vocabulary and language. I find monotypes are a wonderful combination of printmaking, painting and drawing.

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I like the definition that Monotypes are ‘pulled impressions’ that are drawn or painted on a plate. The images are created through applications of ink and then, with the material, that is to accept the impression, are “pulled” with the use of a press or manually rubbing and adding pressure. http://www.collectorsguide.com/fa/fa042.shtml

I also like the idea that no two prints are the same. Each is unique. Monotypes are inherently unique because only one or two impressions maybe pulled before the ink is used up. Although there may be a second impression, it is quite different from the first in that most of the ink was lifted from the plate in its first pass through the press. The second impression, called a ghost is much lighter or thinner and is more of a suggestion of the first. I like this as its similar to leaving a trace, a memory of its existence.

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This same immediacy I enjoy taking into drawing work. I’m not one to spend hours on one drawing. For me it is a vehicle for learning, to make sense and meaning of something, to explore, investigate and articulate my thoughts through marks. I like the direct, immediate and dynamic means of rendering thought itself into form.

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In terms of the coastal environment, I feel I have just scratched the surface and I can’t help but be drawn to the effects of time, the transience of nature, the things that go un-noticed and the ever-changing fragility of the things around me, particularly marks left by the tide.

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Growing ‘Fabric of the Future’

If you recall I was invited by Textile Fibre Forum magazine to write an article about my research work with Kombucha. The article was to start off a whole series on cutting edge textiles, showcasing innovative practice and related research work.

Well, here it is. March 2017 issue 125. I was so excited to receive the magazine through the post and overly delighted to see my article stretch over 5 pages.

Lately I’ve been working on my website which is far from complete as it’s an ongoing process but it has become one of my post MA ‘challenges’. My blog is now part of this website. Please take a look here

 

 

 

 

 

I recently visited the Jerwood Drawing Prize  exhibition at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh. It was a diverse collection of inspirational contemporary drawings that challenge the whole perception of what drawing is and can be. Paul Hobson, one of the judges made the comment that there were many works which position drawing as a durational performance: obsessive mark making, as well as conceptual works that aim to push the idea of drawing to its limits.

I like the description durational performance and the very idea of making time visible.

Helen Thomas ‘Eight Day Draw No.1’ 2016
Malgorzata Dawidek ‘Doubts’ 2015
Solveig Settemsdal ‘Singularity’ 2016

Settemsdal’s Singularity piece explores a temporal and sculptural process of drawing in a fluid three-dimensional space through the suspension of ink in gelatine. I was captivated by the constant change and transformation taking place as this resonates with my own practice.

One of the artists in the exhibition described drawing as ‘marks left behind after the engagement of mind, eye and hand. The evidence of a search’  (S. McGovern 2016). My own drawing is frequently a ‘search’, occasionally secure and purposeful but more often uncertain in what I’m searching for. It is an exploration and evidence of my thinking and I recognise that my drawing is a living process which is constantly evolving and developing. Whilst visiting the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester recently, I was drawn to the work of Idris Khan, his layering and manipulating of images and text in a conversation around memory and experience. The blurred boundaries between drawing and writing intrigues me. There is much food for thought here.

Idris Khan ‘Eternal Movement’ 2012
Idris Khan ‘True belief belongs to the realm of real knowledge’ 2016

The end of one journey, the beginning of the next


After 4 months I’m back in my studio. I wasn’t quite prepared for the transition into the big world post MA when suddenly there were no deadlines or structure. I was glad of teaching work to help focus my mind but now I acknowledge I must get back creating. I am grateful to Debbie Lyddon and Alice Fox for their advice and words of wisdom. Both are an inspiration to me.

In some respects, I wish I could do the MA all over again. Two years of intensive sustained work, facing many challenges along the way. I already miss the vibrancy, the creative environment and the conversations with colleagues and tutors. It was much more than making artwork…it was a whole paradigm shift in thought process and approach.

I haven’t yet returned to my Kombucha work but there are still many unanswered questions and areas of investigation to explore. I feel privileged to have been invited by Textile Fibre Forum journal to write an article about my research work with Kombucha. I was even more privileged that my article will kick start a whole series of articles on cutting edge textiles, showcasing innovative practice and related research work. I believe my article will be in Issue #125 and on sale in early March.

 

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I spent some time after my MA in Scotland’s western isles and it was a well-deserved break to recuperate. Being completely immersed in the coastal landscape however, it was hard for my mind to switch off, as I was constantly looking and making connections within my practice.

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I’ve commented previously that there’s a primeval attraction to the sea and for me it’s a longing; a place to escape, a place to walk or sit, to observe, think, reflect and be at one with the natural world. The smell of the salt air, the wind on my face and the movement of the waves, appealing to all my senses. John Masefield in his poem ‘Sea-Fever’ (1916) conjures up that magnetism

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that cannot be denied

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Similarly, Nancy Price in her ‘Where the Skies Unfold’(1947) writes

Sometimes I seek the companionship of that which in turn I love, fear and worship – the sea. It is ever-changing, it satisfies every mood, it can be ruthless and savage, it can be gentle and kind: it holds unfathomable mystery, it provides adventure… I have a passion for the sea, a passion which near abates. It whispers in my ear things that cannot be expressed in words.

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Throughout my MA I was investigating time and intrigued by how the coastal landscape changes over time with the force of the sea and the elements. How parts of the landscape are covered by the tide twice a day and its surface ever changing and unpredictable.

Trying to translate the notion of change over time is a challenging concept and when I finished the MA I still had unresolved issues that I wanted to pursue. It’s exciting yet unsettling to know that when the working process begins, the end is undetermined and unknown. Whilst in Scotland, I started a new series of drawing work followed by some printmaking work.

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I’ve always enjoyed printmaking particularly collagraphs, often preferring the textual plates themselves more than the prints. I also love the immediacy of monoprinting and after an inspirational visit to the Knitting and Stitching show last autumn I bought myself a jelly plate and have been experimenting with layers and some text.

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My new journey of discovery and learning is about to begin. I acknowledge now I need to set my own challenges and deadlines, so continuing this monthly blog is my first challenge. This will encourage me to be creative and keep up the momentum. I hope to keep you up to date with new work and ideas and share with you some of the things that inspire me. It will be interesting to see where my practice takes me.

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Culmination or Climax? (Looking back and looking forward…)

It has been a busy summer working towards the end of my MA, putting together written submissions alongside work for the final exhibition. I set myself the challenge of exploring how to translate change over time not only through the fabric of Kombucha but also through drawing work and photography. It has certainly felt like a whirlwind of creativity and production and there didn’t seem enough hours in the day to resolve all that I wanted to resolve. I realised that working with ‘time’ as one of my ingredients proved stressful as I could neither speed it up nor slow it down.  However, all my effort in growing a 27foot piece of Kombucha fabric was worth it. Despite the risk of failure and stressful moments whilst growing, harvesting, drying and salting the fabric, I was pleased I had challenged myself. It had been a period of uncertainty, to begin with an idea but not quite knowing what will result.

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I have always been fascinated by book forms…their intimacy and preciousness where the viewer and book have a special close connection and relationship. I wanted to construct a book from Kombucha fabric and watch it change over a couple of months whilst submerged in saline solution. It is interesting that even now whilst being exhibited, changes are taking place and the salt crystals are slowly being coloured by the rusty bolts going through it. I find it fascinating that although it is a book that contains a narrative and content, no-one can read it or know what is inside on the Kombucha pages. It will be interesting to watch how time will continue to change it over the following year.

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I continued to use the littoral as my studio for drawing work, taking photographs and submerging Kombucha in the sea to start off the salting process. This was a welcomed escape from the stress of growing the 27 foot Kombucha piece. Despite the slowness of the Kombucha growing process, it was interesting that all my explorations on the beach were fast. They had to be as the tide was coming in! I was starting to work with time in a very different way.

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Drawing is an integral part of my practice and my sketchbook seemed constantly wet in trying to capture change over time on the beachSo many ideas were surfacing, I could have spent every day there exploring them. I see drawing very much as evidence of thinking.

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6I have been thinking a lot recently about why I draw, what drawing means to me, what is drawing and when does drawing become something else? So when does a drawing in paint become a painting ? Can drawing be done through fabric? I see drawing as visual thinking, a form of analysis, learning and interpretation. It can be wholly immersive. I can look back at my drawings and place myself back there experiencing the moment. In some respects, it’s a form of escapism and I can return at any chosen time.

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And so to the hanging of my final MA exhibition….

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The MA exhibition is still on and the final day is Saturday 8th October

http://www.art.mmu.ac.uk/mashow/  Free admission. Opening Times:Monday – Friday: 10am – 6pm /  Saturday: 10am – 4pm

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Culmination or Climax?

So how would I describe my recent work on the MA course? Has it reached a climax?

Whether my current practice  is a ‘final stage’ or ‘conclusion’ remains questionable. Thinking back to how little I knew at the beginning of the MA and how much my practice has taught me, makes me aware of how much there is still to learn.

Only by reflecting and looking back, can I truly understand the journey I’ve been on. Life can only be understood backwards;  but it must be lived forward. (Soren Kierkegaard 1843)

I remember the first day of the MA when we were encouraged to embark on a journey that opens up new ways of thinking and doing, we were advised to be ‘available to a transformation of who we are…which compels us to rethink ourselves’ (Butler 1994/1995). I can now recognise a fundamental shift and reshaping of my thinking and my transformative learning has gone beyond any expectations and assumptions.

In summing up my learning, I have learned to question, confront, deconstruct and unpick my practice alongside learning the importance of critically reflecting in action and on action (Donald Schön 1983): to stand back and take time to critically evaluate my practice. As Gray and Malins (2004) describe, it has been a life changing experience. 

I will certainly miss the MA and all my colleagues and tutors. Looking back, I have learned that the research experience can be both exciting and nerve-wracking, presenting significant challenges that have taken me out of my comfort zone. I recognize now these feelings are a natural part of the learning process and necessary in order for my practice to move forward. It is learning that has produced a significant impact and fundamental change in approach, which will hopefully go on to affect any subsequent experiences.

So what to the future? An MFA? A PhD? I think first, it’s time to sleep, rest and recuperate and then see where my practice takes me. I would however, like to continue to challenge and extend the boundaries of textile practice and will be continuing with this blog.

I hope you’ll stay with me on my new journey of discovery and learning….

Best wishes

Christine

Nothing ventured nothing gained

Having my work critiqued last month during Testing Time was really valuable gaining different perspectives and interpretations. It was easy to feel overwhelmed by all the feedback but I knew I had to be true to myself and go with what I thought would be the most satisfying route to end my MA.

I recognised this was an ideal opportunity for me to take more risks and take myself further outside my comfort zone. Whether or not this pays off it is uncertain but at least I would have tried and learned from the experience!

As the formation and growth of the Kombucha offered so much to the fabric, I wanted to keep things simple. I was still interested in creating ‘sequences’ of individual pieces but I also wanted to try and grow a continuous long piece which would be almost like sequences attached together end to end but without the joins.

I set out to construct a 3mtr and a 9mtr trough to grow the long Kombucha.

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This was high risk because it would need to be done outside with no control over the ambient temperature and the trough would need to be watertight and weatherproof. The growing Kombucha would be vulnerable to contamination from insects and debris at the conception and growing stages so I would need to put in place methods to minimise this.

Harvesting and drying the long fabric on wooden boards would be challenging and potentially impractical because of the size.

Research leads me to believe, this has not been done before at such a scale so this potentially would be original and innovative work.

This is now a period of uncertainty, to begin with an idea but not quite knowing what will result. I embraced the excitement although there is both a tension and excitement in this process in which I am the initiator but not the controller (Andy Goldsworthy 1992).

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Running parallel with my Kombucha work (and a bit of escapism away from the tension and uncertainty) I set myself the challenge to explore how the concept of time and change can manifest itself through drawing and 2D work.

From a drawing workshop by Jon Barraclough (2016) I recall him questioning whether it was possible to make the invisible, visible just like Paul Klee (1961) when he stated that Art does not reproduce the visible (what is commonly seen) but makes visible (what commonly is not seen). This was my aim.

My drawing work goes beyond representation or appearances and is more about describing, translating and interpreting a possible answer to a question.

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Some of the drawings were exposed to the elements to change over time. I also took my drawings to the sea and used the tide as my collaborator.

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Where Process meets Concept

Something my MA has taught me is that I need to understand my journey and unpick and decipher how I work. In other words, what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, who I’m doing it for (in terms of the audience), what are my reasons for doing it and what I’m trying to say and translate through doing it!

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Mind-map showing my MA journey

Before my MA, I tended to produce work and didn’t think too much about why I was making it. Someone once described my method of working as being like a ‘whirlwind’. Although I’d prefer to see my ‘creative process’ happening in ‘bursts’, in looking at the meaning of whirlwind perhaps there’s more truth to it than I originally thought.

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Further definitions include: A passionate, confused rush……An impetuously active person.

When you’re working within a project, it’s easy to become completely engrossed in all the exploration and experimentation but there comes a point when you realise you need to start bringing things together.

In analysing my working methods, it occurred to me that I’ve been working systematically, learning about this new Kombucha fabric; it’s characteristics, aesthetic qualities, limitations, unpredictability and physical properties. But now, there is a need to make the fabric translate and capture what it is, I want to translate and capture. I need to make my experiments work for me.

In working more intuitively with the fabric and deciding what inherent qualities I admire, I need to bring process and concept together. This means stopping physically making and reflecting, evaluating and analysing. Some would describe this as the ‘hard’ thinking stage. This is where displacement activity can take over…walking the dog, cleaning the house, replying to emails, doing research…

Displacement Activity: is an unnecessary activity that you do because you are trying to delay a more difficult or unpleasant activity

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/displacement-activity

It was time to revisit my original intentions.

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You might recall, my connection with the sea is deep rooted with a family history of deep-sea fishermen, Merchant seamen and living by the coast for most all my life. I am drawn to the sea by its history, its mystery and its dynamics. There seems to be a primeval attraction and for me it is a place to escape; a place to walk or sit, to observe, think, reflect and be at one with the natural world.

I am particularly drawn to the ceaseless motion and the impact of the sea on the coastal landscape and how the landscape is ever changing and temporary in a way that can sometimes be difficult to predict. I am intrigued by how the sea manages to transform, displace, erode, conceal, reveal and migrate things through the ebb and flow of the tide and currents. It has the power to make and remake the landscape.

In Dr Mark Haywood’s Foreword to Sequences: the Call of the Running Tide (Polley & Woodman 2007) he captures this perfectly…

I never tire of the obvious yet fascinating prospect that in a few hours time (this) will become a wholly different world…a few hours later still and it will have re-emerged…the temporary land we share with the sea is a form of wilderness that we can only occupy temporarily: we can neither possess or control this zone of…unpredictable change.

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Geology has left us many clues to how the landscape has changed over time. I am conscious as I sit and soak up the coastal landscape that the bigger picture of geological time dwarfs me into insignificance and will continue to evolve beyond my life span.

In bringing process and concept together, it has been a particularly busy period for me. On the MA Course, there has been a period of Testing Time where we exhibit our work in progress to take part in group and individual critiques with senior staff and specialists from Manchester School of Art. Amongst these were textile artists Alice Kettle and Jane McKeating.

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I decided to ‘test’ out both large and small scale pieces and a variety of ideas to ‘test’ the response from the audience.

 

It was a valuable experience in a number of ways:

  • to see the work displayed in a gallery situation
  • to receive feedback on the work from a variety of practitioners
  • to gain clarity in articulating my ideas

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It was very interesting to receive different perspectives and interpretations of my work. People read my practice differently and saw different qualities within it.

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20160722_172038 copyFrom this Testing Time exhibition I was delighted to be invited to exhibit my Kombucha fabric work at No 70 Oxford Road (the old Cornerhouse Gallery) in Manchester to coincide with the Science in the City event (22-29th July) and in particular alongside the Microbiology and Art event Monday 25th at No 70. It was particularly interesting and valuable to see how the work appeared in a very different environment with different lighting, which made subtle transformations to the work.

 

 

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There now remains about 6 weeks to develop one or two of my ideas further, ready for the final MA show at the end of September. I hope you’ll stay with me during this final stage of development.

Best wishes, Christine

Does Size Matter?

 

http://britishartshow8.com/artists/jessica-warboys-150
Production still © Jessica Warboys I recently visited Edinburgh to see the British Art Show 8. I was captivated by the large-scale by Jessica Warboys, which were made directly on the beach with the sea as her collaborator. She distributed pigment onto sea soaked canvases allowing the waves and the wind to determine the impression left by the paint. Although I’ve been exploring similar ideas, I was drawn to the scale of her paintings. It was partly this that encouraged me to increase the scale of my Kombucha fabric growing.

I recently visited Edinburgh to see the British Art Show 8. I was captivated by the large-scale Sea Paintings by Jessica Warboys, which were made directly on the beach with the sea as her collaborator. She distributed pigment onto sea soaked canvases allowing the waves and the wind to determine the impression left by the paint. Although I’ve been exploring similar ideas, I was drawn to the scale of her paintings. It was partly this that encouraged me to increase the scale of my Kombucha fabric growing.

Wanting to push the limitations of the Kombucha fabric and gain further knowledge and understanding, I set out to investigate whether increasing the scale would have any impact on the physical properties and aesthetic qualities of it.

To scale up my standard recipe and increase the quantities, I got in touch with a number of suppliers to see if they would consider donating any materials by way of sponsoring the research project. I was surprised yet appreciative that some suppliers saw potential in the project and agreed to donate. I learned that many suppliers only support charities, so I was humbled by the generosity of them.

  • Aspall’s donated 84 litres of their organic cyder vinegar.
  • Travis Perkins donated large plastic baths + large sheets of plywood to dry out the harvested fabric.
  • Empress Mills & Whaleys Bradford donated the muslin to cover the baths.
  • Happy Kombucha donated scobies.
  • Premier Foods donated 20 kilos Saxo salt.

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I wanted to find out whether increasing the scale impacted on the time the fabric needed to grow. I questioned whether the impact of scaling everything up would change the physical properties of the fabric but also whether the aesthetics would alter in any way. Would the fabric maintain its fragility and translucent qualities that interest me?

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20160515_171023 copyIt wasn’t long before many issues and challenges presented themselves that hadn’t surfaced on a smaller scale. I soon realised that increasing the number of Kombucha scobies was not a good move. The liquid became over active, resulting in many fermentation bubbles and subsequent large air pockets in the fabric. Where there is an air pocket, the fabric pauses in its growth, creating inconsistencies in the thickness of the fabric.

In addition, the scobies would stick themselves to the underside of the growing fabric. On a small scale if this ever happened, it didn’t seem an issue but on a larger scale it was particularly noticeable and again created inconsistencies and holes.

Although I wasn’t too upset by this, as I was working with a living, ever-changing, unpredictable material, I did want to strive for consistency and perfect the thickness before considering whether I wanted any variation to this.

Research led me to try and weigh down the scobies in order to gain consistency but my research didn’t offer any solutions as to what to use that would not contaminate the liquid.

I tried wrapping pebbles in cling film and placing them carefully on top of the scobies. The over active liquid soon unwrapped the cling film leaving the pebbles on their own. Unfortunately one of the pebbles probably contained hematite and subsequently disintegrated, contaminating the whole bath of liquid. Presumably the acid of the vinegar reacted with the iron content. I’m now using solid glass pieces to weigh down the scobies, courtesy of the science department!

Controlling and maintaining an ambient temperature proved to be a challenge when storing the live large baths. I suspect any inconsistency in temperature would also contribute to the overactivity of the scobies. I would often lie awake at night having visions of the overactive Kombucha liquid bubbling away violently in the studio, with a life of its own and pouring over the sides of the baths and covering the studio floor!

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Managing the larger sheets of wet harvested fabric was a learning episode in itself. If it was too thin, it was too fragile to handle; too thick and it became too heavy and slippery.

I am learning a lot about growing the Kombucha fabric large scale but not yet producing the results I had anticipated. The scale issue is far from resolved but my tenacious personality helps to persevere with it for the time being.

DSCN3913 copyIn the meantime, alongside this large scale exploration, I am continuing to explore the Kombucha on a smaller scale through stitch, manipulation of the surface and using the fabric as a substrate for image and text transfer, including trying cyanotype printing on it. I have also been exploring whether it will grow over and around objects.

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8Whilst I was in Edinburgh I visited a remarkable and thought provoking exhibition Bio and Beyond, part of Edinburgh’s International Science Festival. One section of this exhibition was Menagerie of Microbes cocurated by ASCUS http://www.ascus.org.uk and Heather Barnett. The exhibition brought together the work of artists, designers and scientists who shared a passion for microorganisms, which exist in and around us.

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An Artistic Investigation of Tuberculosis © Anna Dumitriu                                                   Crystalised Bacteria © Simon Park                                                                                                 Bacterial cellulose © Urban Morphogenesis Lab

I was particular drawn to this statement in the exhibition: As we go about our daily business we are surrounded by vast colonies of microorganisms, thriving communities existing largely out of sight. They may be small, yet in terms of impact and numbers, they represent the predominate form of life on earth.

The idea of things being out of sight and going unnoticed is one notion I am trying to capture.

This intrigued me and led me to investigate microscopic imagery of samples of my grown Kombucha fabric and also the salt crystals formed on the fabric. I found it fascinating that an optical microscope camera can photograph things you can see but a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) can photograph what you can’t see.

I was blown away with the imagery. I see can there is much potential here.

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Taking things back to the sea

20160421_093734 copyContinuing with my exploratory work of growing Kombucha fabric, I wanted to take my ‘grown’ fabric to where my ideas originated (i.e. back to the sea) to find out what impact seawater might have on it.

To maintain some control over the level and duration of submersion, I chose to bring the seawater back into my studio, so I could monitor any impact closely. Despite leaving the Kombucha fabric submerged for a couple of weeks in the seawater, no significant visible change seemed to be apparent.

This prompted me to create my own concentrated saline solution. As there are on average 35g of salt in every litre of seawater (and this had no visible effect on the fabric), I wanted to increase the strength substantially to see what effect this might have.

After a meeting with Dr. Susan Hilda Jones at UCLAN to discuss different methods of salt crystal growth, I became quite systematic and methodical in my approach, wanting to explore as many avenues as possible.

I chose to trial my experiments at different temperatures and experimented with the use of a heat mat. I also wanted to try different types of salt to see the effect. The 3 main issues I had to consider were – saturation, temperature and method.

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I understood that any normal type of fabric positioned beneath the water level probably would start to grow crystals. I explored different methods of applying the saline solution through dipping, spreading, spraying, painting and dripping.

It was trial and error to begin with as I experimented with different strengths of saline solution, different salts, temperatures and methods.

Through my research I learned that theoretically the slower the method of growing, the bigger the crystals should be and similarly, the cooler the temperature (water and environment) the bigger the crystals should be. Yet I found this was not always the case.

I was soon learning that (just like the growing of Kombucha), I was now working with yet another unpredictable process with inconsistent results but to be honest I found that quite exciting.

I expected there to be irregularities related to the variable room temperature, position and spread of temperature across the heat mat.

5 copyI found that any Kombucha fabric in close proximity to the heat mat or stood for a prolonged period on the heat mat darkened in colour.

There were some fascinating and intriguing results. Crystals were variable in shape and size. Some were cuboid and some were spiky. There were individual crystals; crystals forming clumps and layers, crystals growing on top of other crystals, some with holes in and some without.

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I was intrigued by a faint green line present on some of my samples but I can only speculate this might be due to the copper from the water pipes, chlorine in the tap water, bacteria in the air or perhaps certain elements within the salt itself.

Once the water was completely saturated with salt, it didn’t seem to make any difference to the rate of crystal growth whether there was 40gms or 90gms in a 150ml sample.

I found that any experiments left for a very long time, not only coated the fabric in salt crystals, with crystals duplicating on top of each other but also they started to spread and grew across the surface of the water,  resembling ice.

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I’ve admired the work of Debbie Lyddon http://debbielyddon.co.uk since I saw her Blue Salt Pots at the Upfront Gallery, Penrith in March 2015. Interestingly she too draws inspiration from natural phenomena and changes that occur in a coastal environment. I can relate to her statement that Air, wind, water, light and sound are forever shifting with continuous and infinitesimal change; my work explores these visible and invisible forces and the transformations they engender on the landscape and the objects in it.

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In my research I also came across Tacita Dean’s The Book End of Time (2013) where her interest in time and fascination with Robert Smithson’s spiral jetty and Ballard’s book The Voices of Time culminated in a film alongside a number of photographs, one of which was of this salt encrusted book.

When I grow the Kombucha fabric, there are many transformations taking place over time, both during it’s growing period and when it’s drying. Similarly, the salt crystals are ever-changing from conception through the different stages of growth. With both the Kombucha and the salt crystals I see echoes of the sea’s erosion and construction.

I began to group together my samples and sequences started appearing.

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I am intrigued by the edge where the salt crystals fade into the fabric. Do we read them as disappearing or appearing? The continuous flow created by the edges is almost like the tide lapping at the shore.DSCN3771 copy

I like the inherent fragility and preciousness the salt crystals have, the organic nature and the tactility. The way the crystals not only sit on the surface but also seem to penetrate the fabric.

Interestingly, once you have an image in your head, it starts to take over your life and you start to look for that image everywhere you go, almost as an obsession. Whilst walking alongside the shore recently, I was very conscious of the subtle and continuous sound of the water ceaselessly licking the coast  (Foley 1994:27). It is this very gentle, almost invisible erosive action I am trying to translate through my work. Follow me in my search for this translation.

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Just as an afterthought – I was pleased to be invited recently to exhibit four of my prints relating to sequences, in an exhibition at The Dukes in Lancaster. The exhibition is on display now until 4 June 2016. I hope you get to see them. This is one of my prints.

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The Learning Curve is a Spiral

As previously mentioned, my research into growing Kombucha fabric is very much in its infancy and at the experimental stage.

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I have spent the last month or so, exploring subtle variations in the actual growing process and the effect my interaction has on it. I have also been experimenting with the manipulation of the fabric produced. It is important to me to identify its potential and its limitations.

As it takes over 2 weeks to grow a piece of fabric, it can become quite a precious commodity. With each experiment, I can’t help but feel cautious, as I’m conscious it might prove unsuccessful and that’s two weeks’ work gone. Even when things seem to go wrong, maybe not as I’d hoped or expected, I need to remember it’s all part of the learning process. Things would never change if people weren’t prepared to experiment; to try or test new ideas and methods to find out what effect they have.

I became curious about the actual meanings of relevant words. I wasn’t sure whether I was ‘experimenting’ or ‘exploring’ but I suspect you ‘explore’ something that already exists but in ‘experimenting’ you might create something that does not yet exist. Or maybe not!

To explore – to travel through (an unfamiliar area) in order to learn about it: Inquire into; examine: explore every possibility; to look at (something) in a careful way to learn more about it; to study or analyse (something)  http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/explore

 To experiment – a  test done in order to learn something or…… for the purpose of discovering something unknown http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/experiment

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I quickly learned how important it is to record and document everything, yet despite being an organised person and a non-scientist, this proved to be a challenge. However, there is a certain attraction to serendipity and letting things just happen.

Untitled copy 2Just like working with the sea, I have found growing Kombucha somewhat unpredictable. I have found that trying to recreate a certain effect has proved difficult. Subtleties such as room temperature, light, atmosphere, different types of sugar, vinegar and tea, all have an effect on the grown fabric.

After many trials and research I have come to the conclusion that Kombucha needs the specific combination of tea, sugar, vinegar + a starter culture of microorganisms in order to grow.

I have learned that the longer the Kombucha is left to grow, the thicker the fabric is, presuming there still remains enough sugary tea solution to feed it. I’ve also learned that black tea produces a darker fabric and extra amounts of sugar don’t seem to impact on the speed of growth, as I originally thought it would. Heat also tends to darken the Kombucha whether in the growing or drying process. If the heat is too intense whilst the fabric is growing the water evaporates too quickly, leaving a sticky toffee solution. At times this has been a love-hate relationship!

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Once the fabric is harvested I have been exploring its materiality and what I can do with it through stitch, wax, natural dyeing, image transfer and layering. It’s intriguing how different textures can be created during the drying process dependent on the surface it dries upon.6

As soon as I started experimenting I realised I was just at the beginning of a massive journey of discovery. There is so much to try yet there doesn’t seem enough hours in a day. It’s unclear at this stage where my experimentation will lead. Although this is an exciting period, it is also very scary when there are time deadlines to meet and unsettling with respect to my MA exhibition next October, when I have no idea yet of the outcomes.

But perhaps fear is a good thing. As Maslow (1969) stated…..one can choose to go back to safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.

I am mindful of where my research began, with the dynamics of the sea and its erosion on surfaces and sub surfaces. With the Kombucha, I want to translate change and transformation over time. Just as the sea manages to erode, displace, transform, conceal, reveal and migrate things…I am conscious of this whe20160107_122320n exploring and experimenting with the Kombucha, perhaps leaving traces behind in the process.

 What next?

I plan to continue with the exploratory experimental work, adding materials to the growing process and manipulating the drying process. I want to see how adding things such as salt, natural materials and heavy metal impact on the Kombucha and whether it continues to grow around objects.

In some of my experiments, I was quite intrigued by the salt crystal growth on the Kombucha fabric and so I also intend to explore this further.

I hope you’ll stay with me through the next stage of the journey….