Dynamics of the Sea

I spent some time in Cornwall recently, which was a bit of a change from Scotland. Thinking it would be good to experience a different kind of coastline, I went hoping for wild weather and wild seas to capture through drawing a dynamic sense of place.  The weather unfortunately was too kind with sunshine and light winds but the North Atlantic swell didn’t disappoint.

I couldn’t take enough photographs of the crashing waves. That breaking point where a wave peaks and then crashes down is mesmerising. The waves surge and begin to lean as they approach the shore. It seems that when a wave breaks, it’s the fast-moving back of the wave which spills over the slowing front of the wave  before it explodes at the shoreline and the shape of the ocean floor impacts significantly on this.

I can sit and watch the waves for hours. I get fixated. Years ago, I spent some time in Greenland and similarly I couldn’t take my eyes off the ice bergs. After 200+ photos  of them I vowed to put my camera away and take no more. But then I saw another and another and couldn’t resist. Each one was unique in shape, colour, texture and light.

I had this same fixation with the Cornish waves and surf.  The sea, the light, the constant motion of the Atlantic swell was all absorbing. I spent the first few days walking and watching, overwhelmed by the beauty. There was so much to take in as the ocean is never still.

It’s interesting to observe the swash rushing up the beach and the backwash moving the sand, shells and pebbles down the beach, back to the sea and  changing the landscape underfoot. Standing with bare feet in the water, you can feel the drag and pull towards the sea. The constant movement and dynamics of the water impacts  significantly on the surrounding landscape. The granite rocks in particular, showed all the scars of time, weather and tide.

I don’t know if it’s a genuine quote by Van Gogh but I can relate to “my sketchbook is a witness of what I am experiencing, scribbling things whenever they happen”.

After walking the coastal path, often high up on the cliffs from Porthcurno to Cape Cornwall. I realised I needed to be much closer to the water to feel its full impact. Most of all at the level of the incoming tide and surf  to smell the  sea air, taste the salt on my lips, hear the crashing of the waves, filling all my senses. That whole sensation and physicality of being there and being exposed to the elements first hand. The wind and the salt spray in your face and on the sketchbook page are all part of the creative experience, trying to gain an emotional response to place.

Kurt Jackson similarly regards his sketchbook as a visual diary, collaborating with the environment in an almost controlled chaos. His lines, marks, and strokes are often spontaneous. His approach and interest in environmental issues resonates with my own. He’s done quite a bit of work with Surfers against Sewage, a partner organisation of the Marine Conversation Society (MCS) which I’ve been a member for many years.

Kurt Jackson: Obsession – Following the Surfer https://vimeo.com/192483027

On a completely separate note I was delighted that one of my pieces of Kombucha work Salt Sequence 1  was chosen as 1 of 15 works by ‘Emerging Artists’ in the Fiber Art Now magazine Vol 8 Issue 3 Spring 2019.

You might recall that Kombucha fabric is grown as a by-product from the Kombucha fermented tea drink. The microorganisms feed on the sugary nutrients in the liquid, building nanofibers of cellulose that bond together into layers, creating a non-woven mat.

For this piece, the sea was my collaborator and salt crystals were formed on the surface of the Kombucha. Ideas relate to rising sea levels and climate change.

Traces of Time and Tide

Where I live, I try to walk by the coast most days. The sea draws me in. That feeling of calmness you experience being by the sea is now being referred to as “blue space.” Over the last 10 years there has been quite a lot of research on blue space and how the soothing smells and sounds of water have a positive impact on your brain, health and wellbeing. I believe Victorian doctors used to prescribe the “sea air” as a cure for an assortment of ailments. But why is the sea such a draw? Is it evolutionary? I know that my own experiences as a child and adult are deep rooted and significant. I’ve certainly wanted to bottle up that whole coastal experience and bring it home.

The act of walking by the coast helps formulate my thoughts and ideas. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the late 1700s spoke about his whole being came to exist when walking and the movement of the body related to the movement of his ideas. I can relate to how the rhythm of the movement and the repetitiveness encourages the mind to reflect and think.

Rebecca Solnit (2006) also described walking as articulating both physical and mental freedom (1.) and German philosopher Nietzsche similarly conceived  ‘only thoughts that come by walking have any value’.(2.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own practice and where to place it contextually. During and after my MA in Textiles, I naturally called myself a textile artist but my practice is so much more than this as it includes drawing, printmaking, photography and making artist books. So, is this breadth of creativity a good thing or a bad thing? Should artists ‘go with the flow’ and do what excites them at any moment in time or might this appear to be dabbling and superficial? Certainly at this present time, I’m quite happy to ‘dabble’ and enjoy the creative experience to then see where it takes me.

Spending time at the coast, you start to notice subtle changes in the landscape. Although the tide comes in twice a day, as it has done for centuries, you have to look closely to see the evidence. Things will have been displaced, hidden or revealed. The tide will have altered things…the substrate will have been transformed.

Like many people I enjoy beach-combing to see what has been washed up. In my earlier work I would often use driftwood and rusted metal as part of my artists books. I like the idea that driftwood carries with it a sense of history, having survived turbulent waters.  It and the rusted metal no longer fulfil their original function but carry forward with them a character and presence in their new role. Traces are left behind from their undisclosed journeys.

 Like the artist Antoni Tapies, I enjoy utilising ‘mundane, everyday materials’  that often go unnoticed (3.) and light-heartedly remember the Wombles of Wimbledon making good use of the things that they find.

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However, it does sadden me to see so much plastic being washed up. As a diver and member of MCS for over 30 years I’ve always been aware of ocean related environment issues.  I was pleased when Sir David Attenborough in Blue Planet II highlighted the enormity of the problem and the devastating impact plastics have on our oceans. For so long, the sea has been treated as a dumping ground and as a result there’s now a plague of plastic that’s choking and suffocating the ocean. Scientists have shown that up to 12 million tonnes of plastic is entering our oceans every year – that’s a truck full every minute!

Having admired the camera-less photographic work of  Susan Derges and Paul Kenny during my MA,  I thought I would take a leaf out of their books to create my own photographic plates from washed up plastic bottles.

I’m intrigued by the journeys the plastic must have gone through and how long they’ve been exposed to the elements, moving with the tides. As plastic bottles take 450 years to biodegrade their journeys might have been very long. Every scratch is a memory and a trace of that journey.

  1. Solnit, R (2006) Wanderlust: A History of Walking London: Verso Books
  2. Nietzsche, F (1997) Twilight of the idols Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co
  3. Franzke, A. (1992) Tapies. London: Prestel Publishing

 

Moment in Time

In trying to capture a sense of place and a moment in time, I’ve been branching out with my printmaking to explore etching (soft ground and photo polymer). I have much to learn but was pleasantly surprised by the outcomes. I like the idea of the acid eroding the surface of the etching plate, almost like the effects of time, weather and water on the natural landscape.

5It was interesting to observe that I treated the etching plate as I would a monotype and through the inking process, tried to translate my emotional connection to the landscape. I wanted to capture light, mood and atmosphere.

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Spending time along the West coast of Scotland and the Hebrides feeds constantly into my print work and my drawings. There is something really special about being out on a remote beach, far way from anyone. Immersed in the landscape and exposed to the extreme weather of strong winds, driving rain and moody skies. I enjoy watching storms forming and developing before my eyes, changing by the minute.

There is no substitute for physically being there, tasting and smelling the salt on my skin, feeling the cold wind penetrate my clothes. Nature’s elemental forces at their best. I want to capture that whole emotive and sensory experience of being there by the sea in all weathers and although my photographs provide a memory and capture a ‘moment in time’, they seem to lack something.

But what is a ‘moment in time’ ? Is it a ‘very brief portion of time, instant’?  Is a moment in time that which ‘defines’ something? A point at which the essential nature … is ‘revealed or identified’?  Its origin is directly taken from the Latin momentum ‘movement, motion; moving power; alteration, change’.

How would I capture this in a photograph or through drawing? The act of drawing within the landscape helps me to feel part of it, albeit an insignificant part. Everything I see, feel, hear and sense feeds into that drawing. It’s about translating and interpreting… a process of thinking and learning.  I want much more than observational representation. I want to capture a sense of place, atmosphere, experience and translate change and time. I can relate to what printmaker Norman Ackroyd describes as “What I’m interested in”, says Ackroyd, “is making an emotional response, rather than just recording what is there”. 

I’ve mentioned previously that when my working process begins, the end is undetermined and unknown. The journey evolves. I recently came across an interesting word online  Coddiwomple’. The Old English Dictionary doesn’t seem to acknowledge it but I believe it means…..‘to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination’ or ‘to travel purposely toward an as-yet unknown destination’ . This certainly sums up my practice in that I work purposely without knowing where it’s leading. As Gray & Malins (2004:2) describe an explorer of unknown terrain. (1)

I can understand the sentiments of artist John Virtue in that he only uses black and white in his work as he sees colour as an “unnecessary distraction”. When immersed in the landscape, there are so many ‘distractions’ of sounds, smells, taste, light, movement and atmosphere, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  Time also (whether in seconds, minutes, hours or days) changes all of these. I think it will be some time before I venture into colour!

At some stage in the future, I would like to take my printmaking into the landscape to work directly on to the wax covered etching plate as Norman Ackroyd does. He comments “things that stirred me, I wanted to get to the root of” and in doing so, he will take ink, plate and acid into the field. The plate can be worked on directly, the acid painted on as if a watercolour, and the ‘bite’ stopped by a quick rinse in a stream or a wipe on the wet grass, giving a freedom and immediacy.

I haven’t yet experienced this ‘immediacy’ with etching but then my exploration has only just begun. I do enjoy the immediacy of monotypes and I recently exhibited a collection of these at the Blue Light Gallery in Masham, North Yorkshire. I also included a number of my monotypes in the Iron Press Printmaking print fair in Lancaster.  Having not given much thought to selling my work, I was quite touched when visitors wanted to buy some of my prints.  To think my prints are now displayed and being ‘enjoyed’ rather than being stored away in my studio plan chest is quite a lovely thought.

Quite separate to my own practice, if you recall I did some work for textile artist Alice Kettle last year on her ‘stitch a tree’ initiative, part of the multi stranded project Thread Bearing Witness. For those of you not familiar with my Facebook page, the aim was to connect communities and individuals around the world through the universal language of stitch, to show support for refugees and displaced people. People all ages contributed by stitching a tree and these were collated together into a ‘Forest’. We expected a couple of hundred stitched trees but the project escalated and we eventually received over 4,000 trees. I was delighted when I eventually got to see ‘Forest’ in situ, exhibited at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.

 

  1. Gray, C. and Malins, J. (2004) Visualizing Research: A Guide to the Research Process in Art & Design. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Ltd

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.

21As Jacques Cousteau once said… the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever and in the words of Nancy Price in 1947 … I have a passion for the sea, a passion which never abates. It whispers in my ear things that cannot be expressed in words.

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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