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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. 

 

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…

13CapturedConversations Anti_War_speeches AIDS2008LouiseBufardeci Landscapes2004LouiseBufardeci Starter_Pistols2005LouiseBufardeci GoverningValues2004LouiseBufardeci

Louise Bufardeci is an Australian artist based in Melbourne who works primarily in textile pieces, subverting traditional techniques in order to explore political, ethical and social tensions. My personal favourite is the series Starter Pistols, which uses bargello, a traditional Florentine needlepoint technique, to map sound waves of gunshots from various weapons from around the world.

latvian5 latvian5 latvian3

latvian6 latvian2 latvian4
 

Anyone who loves knitting, crochet, tapestry, bargello, cross-stitch or 8-bit graphics will likely be as enraptured as I am in these traditional Latvian mittens.

These 4,500 pairs of mittens were made for the NATO summit held in 2006 – each pair hand-knitted, and decorated with traditional and regional symbols and patterns. Even the colour scheme holds symbolic significance — not to mention being incredibly unique and beautiful.

Segue to: Colour lovers

Seriously, one of the best websites out of the web 2.0 revolution. Users can make, share and hijack one another’s colours,  schemes and patterns. The inbuilt colour-scheming software is — gasp! dare I say? — better than adobe’s highly intuitive colour interface. On top of creating colour schemes in HEX, RGB, CYMK or HSB values, you can download colours in a number of user-friendly formats. It will even calculate the perfect colour combination according to set colour principles (complementary, analogous, triadic and split-complementary). Another fab feature is that you can upload an image, and the software will pixelate it so you can pick out the most appealling scheme from the image.

Need I go on?

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