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I am buzzing with thought.

I am starting to develop the conceptual framework for my honours thesis. The thesis consists of a body of work, plus an exegesis (studio report). I have been reflecting on my previous body of work, seeking a tangible link between the conceptual and aesthetic aspects.

In the series Precious Things, I was exploring the concept of preciousness through material and form. The symbol of the gemstone (in this case, in faceted, crystalline forms) was satirised, being made weightless, becoming essentially empty. In the series Picnic Gems, the symbol of the gemstone was used to exalt banal materials (in this case, plastic crockery) to the state of precious object.

Picnic Gems are created by layering old plastic crockery between layers of resin, such that the profiles of the plates and bowls and cups become like geological striations. I like the idea that this becomes a metaphor for the life cycle of objects (broadly speaking): materials are extracted from the earth, used  by humans, only to be discarded back to the earth via landfill.

I’m not by any means saying this process is ethical or beautiful – on the contrary, by treating these discarded objects as precious material, I am attempting to comment on the way in which we assign value to materials and objects, and the point at which that value becomes defunct (ie, when it is discarded)

This led me to consider the reasons why we assign value (I mean ‘worth’, monetary value) to certain materials. Before introducing the massive complications of economics and social politics, I think there are three prominent factors at work:

  1. Rarity — consider gold. Supposedly, there have been a mere 8,333 cubic metres of gold mined in human history, equating to the volume of a cube with sides just over 20m. (I wont mention the figures on the amount of earth rendered dead in mining that.) It is also estimated that there is less than half of that amount remaining in the earth.
  2. Functionality — Again, gold is a prime example of this. Gold is an amazing metal to work with. Disregarding its aesthetic qualities, gold is the most malleable, ductile, alloyable metal. The ductility of gold means makes it ideal for the electronics industry. In goldsmith terms, gold is the ideal material. It is so malleable that one gram can be beaten to cover a square metre. (in number terms, gold has a density of 19.3g/cubic cm, compared with water at 1g/cubic cm – so 1g of gold has a volume around 1/20th of c cubic cm. Tiny!) Gold can be beaten so thin that it becomes translucent. It will strongly reflect red and yellow light, making it highly effective filter of infrared light waves. I probably don’t need to elaborate more.
  3. Aesthetics — I don’t know whether this would come under a socially-driven value, but I’m going to say that there are some fairly universal perceptions when it comes to the aesthetic value of a material. Having said that, there are some amazing variations in what different cultures value and what is highly prized. Sadly,  I think these differences are becoming more scarce – the instantaneously-propagating phenomenon of western media (referring particularly to the internet and the *ahem* art/culture/fashion blogging trend of late), in my opinion, has lead to a kind of homogenization in aesthetics. (I’m not saying this is a bad thing, nor is it an absolute thing – the web 2.0 phenomenon has also enabled access to information and ideas which may have been previously all but lost – but this is an argument for another day…).

Wheww… So my theory is that these factors combined – each aspect coalescing with each other – help to define the value of a material.

I hesitate to define a fourth category to this — that of symbolism. A material develops a symbolic value over time, which is influenced by (and subsequently influences) its value, as derived by the three point above. Think of the gold, silver and bronze medals of the Olympics. Think of diamonds as the symbol of marriage or ‘eternity’. To push this point even further, consider the trend of remodelling old jewellery into new pieces, or even having the ashes of a loved one turned into a diamond.

It is here that my interest lies – the complex ways in which we comprehend and attribute symbolism to objects and materials.

In the course of preparing this post, I had been reading some work of Jean Baudrillard, French philosopher and cultural theorist. Turns out, he had a similar approach to “object-value” theory. More on that next post, but you can check out the wiki page for a brief overview. Presently, I am reading bits of his 1981 book “For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign”.

And yes, that is a made-up word.

I am pleased to announce the launch of my work into the Craft ACT shop!

For those Canberra locals who haven’t seen or heard of this exciting place — I urge you to visit! Located in Civic Square on London Cct, Craft ACT exhibits some of the region (and Australia’s) most amazing makers. They have an exciting and dynamic exhibition schedule within their two gallery spaces, and have recently launched the new Craft ACT shop! The shop features works from local makers — textiles, glass, ceramics, jewellery, objects and publications. All products are designed by talented craftspeople and handmade, so by buying up you’re supporting independent makers.

I have submitted some teacup rings and wireframe neckpieces, the latter including stainless steel, sterling silver and 24k gold plated brass, all on oxidised sterling silver chain. You can see some examples of this series here, and learn about the teacup rings here.

My works will be in the ‘crucible showcase’ at the entrance to Craft ACT until Saturday 22nd May, at which point they will enter the shop. They are available as “cash and carry” so you can buy one from the display and take it home on the spot! What more could I ask or??

Here are the installation shots from my 2009 graduating show.

I made an extension to the Picnic Gems series (of early 2009) and created some more wearables derived from my earlier experiments with wireframes and goatskin parchment.

I apologise that the shots aren’t great — most of the pieces were sold (hence the little sticker dots everywhere) and I didn’t get a chance to shoot them using the flash. Thanks to all of those wonderful buyers out there! This really renewed my working vigour.

I’ll shortly be sending out pieces to a few suppliers, so stay tuned! I’m also working on some more costume-y pieces for my etsy store, which includes a bit of an overhaul/rebrand.

In 2010 I’ll be completing an honours years at ANU, so my next major project will involve refining a concept and further material explorations. Watch this space…

Well, after a heavy 5 months of work in Düsseldorf, I am finally home, armed with plenty of new work and experience. I have some pieces in a group show, called “Freshly Sealed“, in the Netherlands. This show includes the work of my classmates, with whom I collaborated to make the show happen. The aim of the project was to design and create a completely new range of products for exhibition and sale, which complemented our earlier body of work.

Having previously worked with melamine teacups, I resigned myself to explore further design possibilities using vintage melamine crockery, which led me to the technique of embedding layers of material (i.e. stacked plates or bowls) in coloured opaque resin. Finished with sterling silver, I produced a range of brooches and earrings for the show. These “picnic gems” are hand cut and carved from the large ‘rocks’ of material.

Currently, I am working on some new rings using this technique in combination with grenadilla wood and reclaimed Corian.

Below are the images of the works I submitted. Freshly Sealed runs until 18th October, at Galerie Agnes Raben.

This course is also run by Dutch designer Herman Hermsen, and involves the design and execution of an exhibition of student work – small-scale series production available for sale. Part of the theory behind this exhibition is that during times of economic instability, buyers are less likely to invest in expensive, one-off artworks, while simultaneously being skeptical of mass-produced goods from large-scale manufacturers.

For the maker, this opens up a niche – handmade pieces from independent designers at a reasonable price point are now more desirable to the market.

The exhibition has 9 student participants, mostly final-year or masters students (which makes me more than amateur…) who are each developing their own marketable range of products – wearables, accessories or decor pieces.

So how can we make a coherent exhibition out of this broad range of work? It seems that the contemporary jewellery scene is the only place where it is commonplace to exhibit production pieces. Of course, the dichotomy of exhibiting jewellery is that it almost negates the function of the pieces themselves — what is a piece of jewellery if it is behind glass, without a body, a wearer, a life? It becomes and empty object, the dialogue of the piece is changed, overlooked.

To me, these pieces need to communicate something about their context. For me, there is a constant struggle to justify my making production pieces in a world that is already flooded with products. Empty objects, only given purpose by the consumer, to be returned to emptiness once the next-gen designs appear.

The concept of inbuilt obsolescence in products keeps me awake at night. Perhaps this is why a can empathise with the works of makers like Karen Ryan, Marc Monzo and Denise Reytan.

In order to deal with these anxieties, I find myself drawn to forgotten objects as a basis for my work. Jewellery, being a highly personal and communicative medium, seems an apt place for re-contextualising these ‘lost’ objects. At the same time as making production pieces, I want to subvert the concept of mass-production itself. But how?

For the last 3 years or so, I’ve been working on an ongoing production series of ‘Teacup rings’. These rings are constructed from the handles of second-hand melamine teacups which were in production in Australia between the 1950s-1970s. During this time, melamine was a fashionable material for kitchenalia, picnic ware and crockery. I buy the cups from op-shops, garage sales and estate sales. Each wearable piece is hand-carved and unique. The shapes in the pieces reference the original lines of the products from which they are derived, as well as the natural movements of my tools when I carve. If you are interested, the pieces are available from Workshop Bilk.

I’ve decided I will keep working along this theme, using vintage plastics from abandoned mass-produced objects. Aesthetically, I like the concept of referencing the original forms. I have begun a few experiments, but more on that soon.

I’m also in charge of the graphic design/marketing team for this exhibition, this means there’ll be logo/identity design, packaging, promotional material, website and installation work to follow, too. 

Materials: Control vs dialogue [pt. 1, learning to listen]

Materials: Control vs dialogue, [pt. 2, explorations]

 

I realised there is something inherently destructive about the way we all approach materials. There is something destructive in all methods, all attempts at change. 

As humans, we once revered things – places, materials, objects. Once mountains were sacred places, trees were the work of gods, the natural order of things was acceptable, beautiful, illuminating. But through our attempts to control things – materials, processes, places – we have reduced the world to the sum of its parts. We move mountains on a daily basis.

 

Of course, innumerable advantages have come from our explorations – tree becomes wood, wood becomes house, house adds 50 years to the life expectancy of a man. An overly simplistic model, of course, but the approach has almost certainly been about control and destruction in order for creation to take place.

 

My explorations, arguably, have also involved destruction. But I have tried to move this process away from destruction and more towards deconstruction – allowing the material to decide it own form through my interactions.

 

I consider the larger context of this work, relative to the original form of the material and it’s intended purpose. The fabric, made of unbleached cotton fibres, is usually used for clothing, to envelope the body and protect it from the elements. the fibres themselves are natural, harvested from a tree, combed and carded and spun into strands. So then, what becomes of this deconstruction of the material?

 

*      *      *

 

I start to think about what to put inside the fabric shreds. I have some pig knuckle bones from the legs I skinned for my Konfrontation project. I had boiled them down from the flesh, further deconstructing the object. The bones are smooth with undulating, irregular forms. They vary only a little in size, and when moved around in my hands, they tend to nestle in one another’s forms.

I make a little installation on my wall with magnets and these works. I meditate on the forms and their materiality.

 

These bones, remnants of life, of a form and an ‘else’, evoke a sense of loss in me. I think that maybe this process, wrapping these remnants is a kind of mourning. My work with animal remains for my Konfrontation project has taught me that there is a profound and significant association of loss and loneliness with these things.

In these works, I am cradling these remnants. I let them decide the forms through gravity, through their own weight and physicality. They change the form of the fabric, creating tension as they drag it downwards. The softness and fluidity of the fabric envelops the bones, trying to understand their complex geometries, keeping them close.

 

*      *      *

 

I think about the format of these works. Should they be wearable? An installation? Their context changes when faced with a living body. The viewer will interpret them in a different way when they appear as a wearable. There is always an element of choice, decided communication between wearer and viewer.

Conversely, as an installation piece, there is a larger dialogue between maker and viewer, and between viewer and object.

 

I kind of want to make an installation which includes a body. A body not adorned with mourning pieces, but a mourning adorned with a body. More thought required.

 

You can see the precursor to this text here (pt. 1, learning to listen).

We are instructed to choose a material we have a kinship with or would like to further explore in this class. I know I would like to explore the properties of textiles, and I have two in mind: one is silk organza, a light, fine woven fabric with little drape and a fair amount of body (I have some in black and in white); the second is an unbleached cotton jersey – standard knit, soft, light and drapey with a one-way stretch. Both of these fabrics are made of natural fibres and each has its own inherent qualities.

I begin with the black silk organza. It is stiff, strong and light. It is semi-translucent, and has a visible warp and weft. It has a small amount of give on the bias,  but almost none along the grain. I can easily pry fibres from the raw edges of the fabric, each thread long and even.

The second fabric is very different. It drapes; caresses and folds over the surfaces it touches; it stretches and flows with ease. It’s colour is flaxen, off-white with flecks of brown and grey. Using the crochet hook, I begin to unloop individual stitches from the raw edge of the fabric. I tug gently at the column of stitches, which form ladders in the fabric, perpendicular to the raw edge. Adjacent stitches merge into one gap. Entire rows become hanging threads, crinkled from their previous formation. Making ladders in the fabric change the tension, the flat plane of the fabric that existed now has more volume, more surface, extending beyond it’s previous borders. Further work makes an intricate, delicate kind of lacework. The drape becomes cascading shreds and threads. 

There is something missing from the equation. There is a kind of emptiness, the strength, the fragility, and lightness of the material is undefined. The stretch and tension is now latent. I take some glass beads, and bind them into the fabric, one by one, creating a huddled mass, weighty and finite. The material is pulled taut around the beads, parallel lines in the ladders warping around the beads, creating rhythmic concentric patterns. The remaining fabric trails behind, given a new quality purely by contrast. 

 

Here are some illustrations I’ve been looking at as inspiration for a basis for my scrimshaw and pyrography work.

Amanda Nedham

Lisa Solomon

Nic di Genova 

After some experiments with hand techniques, I got thinking that it might be nice to try some mechanical engraving (perhaps in combination) on my bone pieces. I have designed some engraving patterns to be CNC milled into some bone pieces – more next post on that. 

 

This course is taught by Contemporary maker Prof. Elisabeth Holder.

It involves the exploration of materials via an approach which deconstructs a traditional methods. Instead of engaging with a material with the intent of controlling the form which it will finally take, we are encouraged to engage in a dialogue with the material, Allowing the material to determine it’s own form, through it’s own inherent qualities.

First class: Elisabeth enters the room and places 20-odd A4 kraft envelopes on the desk, each numbered. Then she proceeds to pass around a hat full of folded papers, also numbered. Each of us draws a number, and takes the corresponding envelope. Some envelopes are light, flat, empty looking, others have strange protrusions creasing their surface.
My envelope, number 18, is relatively flat and slightly weighty – a bit nondescript.
When all the recipients claim their envelopes, (there are six or so unclaimed. Excess secrets.) we all begin to tear them open. It is like christmas, preparing myself to react adequately, regardless of my impression.

On first impressions:
– Tasteless, odourless, no distinct sound on manipulation (except throwing it against a hard surface)
– amorphous, reformable
– opaque, except when in very, very thin layers, becomes semi-translucent.- oily residue
– leaves traces of itself behind on skin, paper
– Also holds traces of its surrounding.
– affected by temperature, heat makes it more pliable, cold more stiff

Now, we are instructed to remember and consider our first experiences of the material.

*   *   *

I am young, perhaps six or seven years of age. I am in a cubby house made of timber in my back yard, built by my dad. I spent hours in that place, drawing, painting, making potions and perfumes and tea and toys and figurines. Tiny imaginary machines, homes for creatures and toys.
I have a box of coloured plasticine, eight colours or maybe more. I am always careful to keep the colours separate – only ever pressing different colour lightly together, so as it return them to their separate wads of colour when I was finished. it only takes one mistake, for the piece to be forever changed. It wasn’t as though the colours mixed, like my paints did, but rather swirled into an impossible chaos of multiple colours. 
It was summer, and I became distracted by the flowers and sun and insects, so I abandoned my workshop for a few weeks to the heady rhythms of the outside world. Returning to my bench, I found my box of plasticine, transformed by the sun’s glass-house effect on the plastic container from neat wads of colour to one great colourful mass, cast to the interior shape of the box.
I was disappointed, but also mesmerised by this incidental artwork – I stuck a heart-shaped piece of soap in the centre and kept it in my bedroom, in its box, for years. I never touched it again.

*   *   *

Next, we are to take the material, and consider what we might like to do with it. Think about the form we want it to take. I want to see how fine I can make it, stretch it out into one long, striated ribbon, fold it back onto itself, so the light filters through the surface, finding places to hide inside the curves.

And then, we are instructed to make it.

I try stretching the plasticine out – it is surprisingly unpredictable, highly elastic, but not uniform. It tears and ripples. It is at first kind of disappointing, because I know immediately I won’t be able to do what I wanted. Or at least, the material doesn’t want to be controlled as such. So I resolve to let go of my vision and let the material decide on a form. I begin to gently stretch and tear pieces of the material away from the lump, prying it between my fingers. As it gets thin, it warms and changes immediately under the heat of my fingertips. The torn pieces are very fine around the edges, rippled and glassine, like a carnation petal or internal issue. I start placing pieces onto the table surface, layering them, letting them curve and gently bend, finding their own forms. Even after I place them, the pieces continue to change and fall over time, slowly evolving.

The form I make is incredibly voluminous and intricate, like seaweed or some organic material. There is no symmetry or geometry, but there are forces at work – the piece is not static, but rather in a constant, slow flux. Collecting materials from the air around it. Not resisting heat or pressure or time, but gently accepting it.It can never be returned to its original state. Or perhaps, it’s original state doesn’t matter. It is flux, embodied.  

I find myself attributing a kind of poeticism to the material, and feeling a kind of kinship. Like it is teaching me something about experience and acceptance.

After reflecting on our objects, we have a mini exhibition of our explorations. Everyone is given a dozen or so small strips of paper. We are to make a small evaluative statement about everyone else’s works – anonymous, placing the paper face-down next to the work. I have included them below. 

 

Both material and process are an integral part of this project. I am continuing my exploration into materials, simultaneously confronting my fears surrounding them.

My first experiments with pigskin involved removing the pieces from the feet (which were bought from the supermarket, and later boiled to obtain bone material) which were covered with a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and table salt. They were left in the sun to dry out and preserve. Unfortunately, the skin was crudely sliced, and ended up being thick, lumpy and mostly unusable.

My second attempt at skin preparation involved carefully slicing the material (this time from a back-rib cut of pork) and scraping the fat and ligament tissue using a large kitchen knife. This work-intense process breaks down the fat cells in skin, compressing the layers into a much finer, semi-translucent skin. It also meant that I extracted a vast amount of pure pig fat, which is visible as a creamy white substance in the photos below. I am coping a little better when dealing with animal materials now, and was able to sleep after doing this one…
My hands are visibly softer today, too. I think there is something kind of poetic about this process.

I mounted this new piece onto some wood, stretching it out using pins to keep it from contracting and rolling up. It is now drying, and should be ready for working in a few days.

Meanwhile, I’ve been considering the techniques which I might use with these materials. Scrimshaw is the very old technique of hand engraving into bone or ivory and filling the engraved surface with India ink to create drawings. Traditionally, the imagery depicts maps, animals, typography, portraits and nautical scenes (it was a popular past-time among whalers). I like the poetic metaphor of scarring the surface of the material, making stories into histories. I found a few helpful tutorials: Female scrimshander Viveca demonstrates her technique on mammoth ivory, using oil paint as a fill; Mark A DeCou’s tutorial uses powder horn and printer’s ink; while Michael Sheppard’s site gives an insight into the history of scrimshaw and contemporary applications of the technique. 

I am also fascinated by the idea of marking the skin, either via a crude form of tattooing, or perhaps pyrography. Belgian artist Wim Delvoye tattooed live pigs, which lived as artworks, and were taxidermically preserved post-mortem. Pyrographers traditionally use leather or wood as a drawing surface, upon which marks are burned using a hot metal tip (like a soldering iron). Sue Walters works with some less usual materials like paper and vegetable ivory (tagua nut) and makes remarkably high-fidelity work. I’d also like to try this technique on bone, too.

I have also begun to consider and experiment with other techniques; superfine crochet based on Irish crochet; various types of hand-worked embroidery (cross stitch, needlepoint, whitework, etc.) More on technique in the next few posts, I think.

 

Without overanalysing, I think I am drawn to these intricate, repetitive and time-consuming techniques as a way of transforming and connecting (or is it re-connecting?) with the materials. And those who know me well know also of my compulsive hand-work as an anti-anxiety activity…

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