The purpose of this research point is to look at how artists and makers use found objects or materials to create innovative textiles and textile art.
The course materials first suggest looking at the work of 3 practitioners – Elizabeth Couzins Scott, Diana Harrison and Hannah Leighton-Boyce.
I decided to research these in order particularly as I found the work of Elizabeth Couzins Scott quite disturbing and unsettling on initial reading which is with some collections or individual pieces possibly her aim as she seeks to convey a specific narrative. The coursework material tells of how Elizabeth Couzins Scott has used faces of dolls and clothes to examine how contemporary popular culture exerts pressures on women and girls but further investigations reveal the more specific narrative of the beauty myth that is almost impossible to recreate which is resulting in an increasing number of young women seeking cosmetic surgery.
By using photo silkscreen techniques she has created a collection using these dolls and clothes that I find incredibly haunting and as said quite disturbing, What I am more interested in is how she uses found objects such as debris washed up from the sea or the inclusion of recycled clothing such as bras etc in order to convey her narratives in a variety of ways other than actual words. A collection based on the mythology of underwater worlds uses recycled cast paper and found materials to create a fictitious museum collection that consists of a fantasy mermaids personal accessories or the fossilized sea forms to speak of the environmental decline and destruction of our seas and oceans.
A second collection involved the use of bras and other artefacts to tell of the problems women with breast cancer encountered such as their femininity, body image and sexuality and how these affected their personal relationships as well as the issues encountered with communication between themselves and their health professionals – the resulting artefacts was part of a collaboration of a group of artists, including Ms Couzins Scott, called Comma (Communication, Medicine and Art), a doctor and a clinical psychologist whose specialisms are sexuality and cancer. This group of artists seek to provide information in ways other than what is considered normal and gives voice to the difficulties the women expressed – this is something that really touches a personal nerve with me particularly as someone close to me had breast cancer and also the fact I am a current and now will be a lifelong rare cancer patient.
I find myself looking at the how the found objects and artefacts are used within Ms Couzins Scott work both in a direct and indirect manner in order to convey a specified theme or concept whether it is based on real life or uses mythology in order to convey the anxieties and concerns of our modern day life or to give voice to something that is difficult to express through fear or worry. The bra is without question the artefact that intrigues me most – it takes an object that is such a familiar part of a woman’s every day life and uses it to speak of the difficulties, the surgery, the loss or the destruction of our bodies when cancer invades. I note the use of both what seems to be rust dying and also safety pins which create an aged and decaying appearance as well as combining fabrics from differing bras creating the multiple layers of emotions or treatments. Each object used in the individual collection has been carefully considered and chosen to create a cohesive theme which speaks of the underlying issues and yes the work is still disturbing but it is also incredibly thought provoking and invites open discussion and this is something that I want to aim for and develop within my own work.
My overarching theme for this course that I want to consider in differing ways and techniques is of dilapidation and destruction as a metaphor for chronic illness so the work of Ms Couzins Scott will now make me look again at my objects or scraps of fabric or clothing to see if I have anything that could be used as part of this assignment and whether in fact I have any old clothing that has not made its way to a charity shop that could be used and investigated to convey this narrative.
Diana Harrison, I again was very unsure of on initial investigation – the course material explains how collecting found objects can be a starting point for a project with some handkerchiefs resulting in a potentially thought provoking piece of work not dissimilar to a quilt but I confess I just didn’t ‘get it’ …. my Asperger’s quirk of literal interpretation can prove frustratingly problematic in the creation of barriers to understanding at times! However further investigation revealed to me that Ms Harrison’s work often involves commemoration in some form due to the time it takes to complete each piece of work – the slow nature of the projects usually coincides with differing times of her life and results in textiles that have a contemplative undertone.
What is interesting to discover is how Ms Harrison seeks to work with the marks and traces left behind through folding, stitching or the various processes that created the fabric or found object/material. A variety of techniques such as discharging, steaming, dyeing, burning and stitch are used as she feels appropriate to each piece and considerable time and thought is put into the developmental process – this process becomes part of the contemplation and underlying eventual commemoration.
It is interesting to note that Ms Harrison’s studio is within her domestic environment and that in itself is encouraging – I often struggle with not having the room or feeling that working in the home is restrictive but I am also learning to overcome these restrictions or work within the boundaries that that create.
Although the handkerchiefs piece of work eluded me in interpretation the creation of The Box quilt however somehow spoke to me – my back ground is partially in quilting and I am very much interested in contemporary and innovative quilts. The Box consists of a quilt ‘sandwich’ made up of cotton, bondaweb and silk – conventionally wadding would be used as the middle layer and the use of the bondaweb as the middle layer would no doubt be frowned upon by traditionalists. The quilt itself is heavily stitched, sometimes apparently using masking tape to create the straight lines desired (a usual titbit that will be stored for my own use!) which in themselves creates an impression of corrugated cardboard.
The actual quilt started as a collection of boxes picked up by Ms Harrison on her way home from work and at a time she was facing redundancy which in itself created feelings of being squashed in the road, washed up etc and these boxes represented those emotions – a simple cardboard box created a concept and spoke about something that was happening within her life and can be interpreted by the viewer in a similar manner depending on their personal circumstances. However, the Box exhibit itself sought to explore the word ‘quilt’ through its connotations with warmth and protection as originally the box itself sought to protect its contents – a seemingly simplistic concept which creates discussion and thought when combined with the dimensions that represented those of a bed quilt.
The use of the boxes really demonstrates to me strongly how something seemingly innocuous and often discarded can be used to explore a concept and be subsequently developed into a textile piece of work with a succinct narrative that does not have to be complex and can have an impression of simplicity which belies the work behind it.
Hannah Leighton Boyce is the final practitioner mentioned in the course work and on first glance at the imagery of 13 balls of spun yarn again my literal mind struggled to make sense and understand the installation – if I am brutally honest the balls just looked to me to be a pile of yarn accompanied by a somewhat pretentious description! However, research revealed that much of this practitioners work involves in-depth research and of both current and historical (archival) research combined with process and material led exploration using found objects or occurrences that are seemingly lost to the passing of time. Understanding how Ms Leighton Boyce or other practitioners respond to their chosen objects and in particular specific sites is vital to understanding installations or resulting pieces of work which may include drawing, installation, sound or sculptural forms – Ms Leighton Boyce seeks to respond and explore the way we leave traces or marks on physical locations.
An underlying theme that runs through much of Ms Leighton Boyce’s work explores “ways to express notions of presence and absence, the material and immaterial” (Leighton Boyce, 2013) – this sentence I find expresses and explains her work evocatively and directly and by this I mean if I take the installation referenced in the course material, ‘The Last Yarn’, it is now clear that this artist seeks to create a symbolic remembrance of both the work and workers of the spinning room through actually spinning those balls of yarn at their original location. The installation expressed both a presence, through the practitioner actually being there and also the absence of the workers and this understanding is further enhanced by the imagery to the left found during my research – the lone figure in the room represented all those workers who not just worked there but whose lives were intricately entwined, quite literally, with the mill itself. The artist sat spinning within the empty walls of the spinning room gives rise to images in the mind of the spectator of the history and lives that once went on in that same room including the incredible noise of the machines, the dust, the wool fibres and actual people who worked there and this in itself has created the act of remembrance that she desired …. for me personally, that single photo is more evocative than the balls of yarn seen on their own.
I find her work immediately reminiscent of how Diana Harrison explores uses the marks and traces left behind on objects and materials by the manipulation of the material which during the process of making becomes meditative and an act of remembrance of that particular period of her life although Ms Leighton Boyce’s work responds often to a specific location as well as the found objects – two differing methodologies that connect through their responses to memory, remembrance and marks or traces.
I am incredibly interested in how this practitioner responds to both the found objects and the sites themselves whether individually or connecting and how the connecting research that takes place seeks to juxtapose both current and archival investigations. On first glance the installations seem almost too simplistic or bordering on the abstract if the underlying theme or concept is not understood but when it becomes apparent perhaps through an additional photograph or even just the title or if the found objects are seen within their original location then the narrative becomes clear, succinct and incredibly thought provoking as the viewer ponders what once went before.
At this point how I can use any influences from Ms Leighton Boyce’s work in my own work is not immediately apparent and some thought needs to be given as I consider my collection of objects but I am aware of wanting to consider how I can use them as acts of remembrance or in connection with wanting to use them as metaphors for chronic illness – I will update this blog in due course.
Further to the above practitioners the course material asks me to research 3 or more further examples of using found objects to create innovative textiles and textile art with the first to come immediately to mind is Lindsay Taylor whose work I studied in Ideas and Processes. In my blog I had written about a piece of work titled ‘Plastic Soup’ (wrongly labelled in that blog as ‘Textile Soup’) as part of a larger contextual research point with my original focus on how her techniques or chosen materials created her desired narrative.
I find myself looking at this individual piece with fresh eyes due to her use of found objects which in this case is rubbish including plastic washed up onto a beach called Grange Chine on the Isle of Wight where she lives. Ms Taylor had been originally inspired by the photographs of dead albatross chicks by Chris Jordan – tragically the chicks were unable to regurgitate the plastic and rubbish they had been fed by their parents and hence died of starvation.
6 years after Ms Taylor created Plastic Soup, and the other 3 pieces which include ‘Bag for Life’ which make up her series called ‘Endangered’, the narrative is no less tragic and thought provoking – it sends a clear message of what the human race and our consumption of plastic and rubbish is doing to our oceans.
Both pieces use discarded objects and rubbish to create a very direct and forthright message – there is no room for misunderstanding or interpretation of the collection and this I do find myself questioning how I can use this within my own work although my preference is to be more cryptic and use metaphors or analogies to convey an abstract concept i.e. using dilapidation or decay particularly with architecture and buildings as a metaphor for chronic illness. I am now questioning how I can be more direct in my interpretation of my concept and deliver a more direct message through considering carefully chosen objects, imagery or materials – I am unsure as to whether I have enough bandages and imagery within the collection of materials I have gathered together, to convey the medical side of my theme of chronic illness, which have been left over from a previous project but will now look to see how even in small quantities they could potentially be used perhaps in conjunction with other seemingly unconnected items or how I could use my collection of materials to create this more direct narrative.
Research in Assignment 1 had lead me to the work of Clare Bartleman whose work primarily focuses on sentimentality and the use of personal objects that we hang on to even when their original function in our lives is long past. I found it frustrating to find in-depth information on her work and in particular a piece called ‘Twice Taken:Mother Heap’ but her bibliography on her website reveals that she has created pieces involving abandoned or unfinished craft projects that almost all makers or crafters have hidden away in draws or cupboards. Further research revealed to me that Ms Bartleman initially wanted to celebrate these abandoned projects and ‘re-contextualize them within the contemporary art world’ (Bartleman 2018). I find it interesting how this practitioner realised that as she worked on this concept that each of the objects had their own characteristics within them and in working with them she not only acknowledges the undervalued skills and crafted objects but she gives them new form and in effect a new life as she herself embues new characteristics upon the layers created by the original makers – each piece will have memories and traces left by the hands and materials of those who first worked on them and she herself will be leaving new marks and memories ….. each piece for me becomes perhaps symbolic or an act of remembrance that draws parallels with the work of Diana Harrison or Ms Leighton Boyce above.
Twice Taken: Mother Heap can be seen in the video below and appears to be a collection of crocheted, knitted or sewn craft projects that have been formed to create an impression of a human form at least in that particular gallery space:
The textile ‘sculpture’ certainly celebrates the forgotten projects and the title is suggestive of the inspiration perhaps being a heap of those craft projects as mothers we often never get around to finishing due perhaps to the demands of family life but the original concept could of course be entirely different and I am currently awaiting clarification or any insights into this from Ms Bartleman and will update accordingly.
Twice Taken has struck a cord with me as I am one of those crafters with countless unfinished projects tucked away and also countless samples from previous courses – some of which are making their way into this assignment in order to recycle them! I really like the concept of using these unsung projects to create something new and that celebrates both their original intended use or finish and a possible new form as well as the fact that the resulting new sample or piece of work will have the memories associated with two differing times in my life – the characteristics create layers of memories and the essence of who we are and this is something I feel I can take forward into my work because again it creates an act of remembrance or embues each work with a sense of time, place or a memory as well as who I am.
The work of Jane Perkins is in total contrast to those thus far studied – she literally creates contemporary or historically inspired art using found objects such as discarded waste, buttons, shells, toys or whatever else she can find! Ms Perkins often focuses on portraits of famous people of the modern era but she has also created pieces inspired by the old masters themselves – I confess I find the historical referencing more immediately appealing due to have studied the art history module during level 1 of this degree course.
It is interesting to discover how Ms Perkins first colour matches her objects before finding shapes that match the pixels or brush strokes of the original painting.
Although this work is not textile art as Ms Perkin’s now works primarily using plastics it uses the collage and techniques of her textiles background and I also include the work due to its total focus on found and discarded objects.
What Ms Perkin’s work does demonstrate is how even the smallest object can be recycled or up-cycled in a differing context to its original purpose whether within a textile art context or within contemporary art. I am further interested in the historical referencing whether it is art history or of a particular era or style – right at the beginning of my studies I knew I wanted to incorporate my love of history into my work but very quickly came to realise that if I wanted to do this it was a question of finding the right or appropriate balance between the historical and contemporary.
I do note the use of colour and shapes which create the collage pieces as each is clearly carefully considered and chosen – I have a love/hate relationship with collage and have sometimes struggled to create the imagery I have desired due to somewhat careless placement and hence this is something I can consider worthy of working on in this assignment.
Louise Baldwin is an artist whose work rings a bell with me and may have possibly studied her in an earlier module but her work is without question relevant to this research point.
Ms Baldwin uses primarily mundane packaging, imagery and objects from her own domestic environment which she combines with both machine and hand embroidery/stitch and pompoms … I am not entirely sure about the pompoms but the rest I understand! This imagery creates a riot of seemingly disordered colour and materials which are stitched, cut up, stitched again, reorganized, re-orientate, stitched again etc until they feel ‘right’ – the resulting collaged works are totally and instinctively process-led throughout their making.
Although each piece is almost completely abstract with a feeling of a sometimes random and hectic life the stitching of the messages or embroidery for me creates a sense of order – my fiance has said that even when I work with total abstraction it still has an underlying sense of order. My research reveals a description that states how the packaging from every day life becomes juxtaposed with our hopes and desires or our imagination – the packaging itself is representative of far more than its original use or form but becomes embued with the essence of who we are as we seek ways of working with it or reforming it in innovative new ways.
Due to financial and physical restraints I am having to primarily use what is within my own home for this assignment and am also naturally process-led idealistically – I sometimes struggle with design-led work using my sketchbook which often means sketches are retrospectively done in order to represent the journey taken. I find the way Louise Baldwin works both with the packaging and her methodology strikes homes on a deeply personal level as if this course allowed this would be my own methodology but obviously the sketchbook work is a necessity so adaptions are duly made.
Through my research into all the above practitioners I want consider the following aspects of their work in the exercises that follow:
- Using primarily recycled or up-cycled materials from within my own home including clothing
- Exploring taking a more direct approach with my chosen narrative – at least in part as I seek to….
- …. also explore using packaging in an ordered but abstract interpretation of the same theme
- Imbuing my work with a sense of place, time or memory – consider how I may incorporate these into the work and the narrative …. can I give a sense of what is now rather than what was once?
- Consider archival and contemporary research to support my sketches and samples
- Consider the traces or marks left behind as my objects or packaging are deconstructed – how can these be worked with to enhance their new use
- Can I use my objects to create new pieces in a differing material but with their origins still obvious?
- Consider the symbolic act of making both meditatively and as creating an act of remembrance …. how can this be done? thinking slow stitch or using alternative methodology
- Re-purpose innocuous objects that otherwise I may have dismissed?
- Consider how I can give a sense of place and location or whether the piece if taken forward would be a site specific installation