Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Woolly Wales

For my essay last year, I decided to write on the revival of traditional Chinese dress Hanfu, which necessitated a few days dedicated reading in the cavernous library of SOAS. Having travelled to China a couple of times and a period of study in Shanghai university, I have a particular affinity for the people, culture and language which is why I decided to tackle a subject I knew little about but was ever so keen to research and discover further.

This year I have decided to concentrate on a subject much closer to home- The Welsh woolen Industry. Despite being located significantly closer than the fabulous country of China, it has definitely necessitated much more to-ing and fro-ing up and down the length of Wales- so big thanks be to the amazing taxi driver skills of my parents. I have decided that this is the subject I would like to research extensively for my dissertation. As a weaver, it is directly related to my field of study, as a Welsh person, it is directly related to my heritage and culture and to be quite honest it is probably one of the most fascinating things I have ever decided to get clued up on. Ok, so I had absolutely no idea what on earth I was letting myself in for when I began my journey. Along the way I have met some extraordinary characters and personalities, who have welcomed me into their world and informed and educated me with unforgettable conversations. I have learnt so much from just listening to these people and have gained knowledge, which has far surpassed my need for academic library books.

Despite initially feeling quite low and sad for the industry, which like so many other rural crafts is struggling and facing momentous economic hardship, a glimmer of hope was provided towards the end of my research. Aside from financial troubles, one of the other key issues facing the industry is that of succession. With many of the mill-owners now nearing retirement age it is highly probable that several mills will be left with no option other than to close. This is the unfortunate truth. However this is where I believe my work, as a young Welsh weaver comes into the equation. I am going to try and start a proposal to present to the Welsh Government but at the moment it is just a very early concept and I’m desperately waiting to hear back from the people that could guide and help me. I shall keep you informed with how it goes.

Below are some images taken during my visits around the various remaining Welsh woollen mills- Curlew Weavers, Melin Teifi, Melin Tregwynt, Solva Mill, Trefriw woollen mill.

I was particularly taken with Elaine of Trefriw's collection of antique Welsh tapestry blankets. The comprehensive colection showed how colour and pattern had evolved and changed over time and how certain techniques, e.g. natural dying had come in and out of vogue. The traditional Welsh, double cloth weave patterns are certainly something I would like to invesigate further in my own work.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

My old friend Paris

Having just arrived back into London after a few days back in Paris I can confirm that my longing and love for the city are ever existent. The reason for this wonderful 2 night break was of course work based, with us Chelsea students having clubbed together to buy a stand within the Indigo section of Premier Vision to sell our samples.

This short project which culminated in the Paris trip was certainly stressful. Having 6 weeks less than other students due to being on exchange and being plagued by an ever breaking Harris Loom didn’t help with the panic of trying to produce credible fabrics suitable for the fashion industry. But thankfully I managed to cobble together a somewhat clashing collection inspired by the gothic decadence of the interior of William Burgess designed Cardiff Castle.

A few snaps of my Indigo collection-

I had already been fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to visit Premier Vision back in October during my time studying in Paris. What I found then was an insiders look at a hostile industry fed on cheap, mass produced products that startled me significantly. Yes, admittedly there are producers within PV which don’t conform to this rather pessimistic description but as a student, you are made to feel like such an outsider, prohibited from entering the companies maze of white boxes. Unless you are a buyer, forget it. Yes the sparsely scattered interactive areas let you feel and look at a selection of the current wares offered by the various companies, but beyond this, the companies remain inaccessible entities, closed doors. Having already experienced the shock of feeling so totally disillusioned with the industry I am ultimately working towards possibly embarking on a career within, this time I was prepared. I took a much more relaxed approach to the whole show and instead of frantically trying to sneak into the top secret boxes, I left the exhibition at 3 to go to see an exhibition at the Pompidou instead. Much more inspirational!

I am really pleased to hear that several students did manage to sell samples to big companies such as Vuitton and Bottega Venetta. But also extremely cross to learn of how one sample was sold to a certain well-known brand for a knockdown price of 250 euros (samples usually sell for 400 euros plus). It certainly feels like the equilibrium between designer and company needs to be addressed. I suppose this is just an age old predicament which is inevitably linked to such an industry.

The pressure, ‘forced-down-your-throat’ trend predictions and general nervous atmosphere evoked at PV was thankfully a world away from that felt wondering around my familiar Parisian street and sipping Citronnaud at small, cozy corner cafes. The mentioned exhibition, Danser Sa Vie is one filled with inspiration for the mind and soul and makes one realize the depth of connection between movement and mood. Dance has and undoubtedly will continue to be an invaluable source of inspiration crossing all creative boundaries into the art and literature world. Going to watch dance, be it contemporary or classic always brings me such pleasure and positivity. Is it the energy, the ability to physically express matters of the soul or the rhythmic pulse of movement and music entwined I will not know. One thing I am sure of is that my reminiscing of my visits to both Theatre Chaillot for the contemporary and Palais Garnier for the classic has left me eager to get back into regular jaunts to Saddlers Wells in London!

Two inspiring London exhibitions

With a fleeting London visit from my mum last weekend, we decided to go and visit two London exhibitions, the much talked about David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy and the recently opened Lucian Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I am please to report that both are definitely worth a visit (especially at a non half-term time!) and although exceptionally different it is irrevocably unavoidable to compare and contrast between the two as both have at one time or another been considered Britain's greatest painter.

© Royal Academy of Arts The Road Across the Wolds, 1997

Hockney shows a plethora of work abundant in highly vivid colour and rich in imagery but all devoted to one genre- landscape. He crosses boundaries with experimentation in scale and medium with an enormously vast room devoted to his newly acquired passion for ipad paintings, of which I remain somewhat unconvinced by being a bit of a luddite in my views towards technology. Despite previously being inspired to capture the culture and allure of distant destinations (such as L.A. swimming pools!), there is something quite profound and comforting of his choice to return and draw the landscape within 65 miles of where he was born in Bradford. Aesthetically pleasing and not at all very emotional challenging, we are drawn from room to room in what seems like an endless attack of colour and nature.

© Royal Academy of Arts The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 In my opinion, although I can recognize that the ipad is just being used as another drawing tool, like a paintbrush or a pencil, I find it gives the images a rather flat, lifeless quality with their lack of texture.

Freud's retrospective of work show the development and progression of his painting in terms of subject and style. What’s consistent throughout is his ability to succeed in capturing the soul of the sitter, albeit with a rather more often than not melancholic essence. His paintings have a darker, deeper aesthetic with the sitter often placed in a rather grim, basic looking setting. Freud's figures are often rather androgynous and unconventional looking. He does not beautify his subjects but instead presents to us the unadulterated truth through his depiction of lived-in, pasty skinned bodies. As we are guided around the exhibition, what becomes clear is the documentative quality of his paintings. Rather like visual diaries, they record and portray changing emotions towards his wives and lovers and poignantly his difficult relationship with his mother. Some are astoundingly amorous and affectionate whilst others clearly painted with animosity and bitterness towards a subject or situation and in order to intensify this he often paints his subject within empty, dilapidated rooms. One which particularly springs to mind is that of Freud and his then wife in a hotel room. Whilst she lies alone in bed with an extremely pained facial expression and nervous composure he is seen hovering in the dark shadows of the background. Through the window, the roofs of Paris taunt like an unreachable haven. Whether you appreciate the paintings for their metaphoric qualities and emotional complexity or merely their aesthetic exquisiteness with patchwork strokes composing admirable detail and finesse, I highly recommend that you go and see this exhibition.

Girl With A White Dog (1950-1951) - A rather harrowing portrait of his first wife Kitty shortly before they separated.

Benefits supervisor sleeping. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery.

The work of both artists is equally highly accomplished and inspirational. Hockney’s love for Yorkshire radiates from his colour crammed countryside compositions- which mum and I decided was a fabulous free promotion for the Yorkshire Tourist Board. While what Freud’s lacked in colour they made up for in raw emotion and human energy. On thing is guaranteed, the sales of paintbrushes are bound to be on the increase. I challenge anyone not to be inspired!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Stour space

Thursday evening, myself and Cat braved the freezing conditions to head out to the wilderness that is Hackney Wick. Stour Space is a relatively new, social community based organization which hosts exhibitions, educational events etc. It is in an absolutely amazing location opposite the new Olympic stadium. We were here for an evening of anthropological film and discussion with ARTEFACT. The main film that had tempted us out was Unravel by Megna Gupta which explored the journey of western textile waste from the UK to a recycling plant in Panipat, North India. A bold comment on the staggering consumption patterns of the west, the film explores the workers response and confusion as to why such an astounding amount of clothing, good as new is disposed of-

'Unravel follows the Western worlds least wanted clothes, on a journey across Northern India, from sea to industrial interior. They get sent to Panipat, a sleepy town and the only place in the world that wants them, recycling them back into yarn.

Reshma is a bright, inquisitive woman working in a textile recycling factory in small time India, who dreams of travelling the vast distances the clothes she handles have. While Reshma shows us how these garments get transformed, she and other women workers reflect on these clothes. Despite limited exposure to western culture, they construct a picture of how the West is, using both their imagination and the rumours that travel with the cast-offs.'

Meghna made a conscious decision to steer away from portraying a pitiful view of the workers and instead floods us with imagery of their smiles and infectious laughter. She also revealed in a talk after the screening that what the film captures is merely a small, significantly edited version of the whole process which involves key occurrences such as the disappearance of many of the imported clothing onto the black market. I feel this has tremendous impact on how the actual situation is perceived by us the view and in many ways one could argue that we are presented a falsified version. The anthropologist who has spent years of research at the textile plant in Panipat as well as other similar plants conducting an in depth observation of the processes and workers unfortunately did not work closely alongside Megna during her filming and interviews. I think that this would have benefited the capturing of a more realistic portrayal greatly.

I can gladly acknowledge the fact that a more positive portrayal of such a profound disclosure and commentary on the abominable state of the textile industry is indeed refreshing and original. However I cannot help feeling ambiguity towards whether or not this is actually doing the opposite and is in fact undermining the kind, generous nature of these people. My emotions are perhaps connected to an exhibition I visited whilst in Paris during my Contemporary Arts class. I can't help but make parallels between his work and "pervasive art" style and the attitude of Meghna towards her subjects. JR's work involves such things as pasting enormous portraits of "interesting" looking characters such as inhabitants of a Brazilian favela or the elderly in the most conspicuous of locations such as over bridges, on the side of buildings etc. Whilst the individuals themselves may feel proud of their brief "celebritisation" they are blissfully naive and unaware of their role in a billion dollar industry which stretches beyond their wildest imaginations. Which to be quite frank is in my opinion, a way of preying on the less fortunate and using their lack to fuel our gain. Yet another example of our world's inequality. Although Meghna has evidently only created this one film and with good intentions I still can't help feel that the workers are somehow being taken advantage of.

The other films shown were equally interesting and have definitely sparked my curiosity into investigating anthropological film further. It has even inspired me to re-read Danny Miller's book- The Comfort of Things which I first encountered during my studies at Bath. Ed Owles works for an independent film company called Native Voice which creates incredibly thought provoking documentaries and broadcasts in several countries which challenge the way in which we see the world. All have a distinct aspect of storytelling and informing in a subtle, authentic manner. The subject of the films is extremely diverse, from a focused portrayal of a female worker on an offshore oil rig in the North Sea to the absurd beauty pageant event held in an all female Columbian prison. I would recommend looking at the website where you can actually watch the films at your leisure- www.nativevoicefilms.com

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Ptolemy Mann

It would be difficult to define Ptolemy Mann as just a weaver as her extensive appreciation of colour theory and growing interest in architecture has allowed her to cross boundaries with her work. Her distinctive ikat style panels and random minimalist architectural forms have an extraordinary calming effect thank to her research on the psychological impact of colour. As well as Anni Albers, she is greatly inspired by the dynamism of the Bauhaus school. Later this year, the Barbican is holding a Bahaus exhibition which I am looking forward to visiting as I know relatively little about this period of art and design.


What I found most compelling about the exhibition was the artist's foray into the realms of architecture and the environment. Without using cloth, just with the application of panels of colour she has designed building facades such as King's Mill Hospital which do indeed look like woven pieces. Her affinity for strong, harmonizing colours all created by hand-dyeing should be highly commended for their dramatic presence and calming effect.

Lost in Lace

Lace is something which has always intrigued and fascinated me. I have a vast collection of antique lace bits from my local vintage shop back in Wales and each piece seems to hold so much love, passion or history be it hand or machine made. I suppose I'm quite passionate about traditional techniques and the preservation of these in our unforgiving, mass produced textile industry today. I have heard there is a fantastic lace museum in Northern France and it has always been an ambition to visit. Hopefully one which could be achieved in 2012.

I read about the Lost in Lace exhibition through an email from the Crafts Council while I was still in Paris. I couldn't believe it. Such a large scale, innovative exhibition bringing together new approaches by UK and international artists with one common love, lace. I was not disappointed. However I felt some of the exhibits did have rather a questionable and ambiguous association with 'lace' I was willing to accept them as another form of interpretation.

Held in such a vast, grand space (Gas Hall at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) it is little wonder that the majority of works were chosen for their theatrical, grand scale and visually astounding qualities. Many could be described more aptly as installations rather than pieces of work as they allowed thread to envelope the visitor in a fluid environment.

Lace has definitely grown in popularity and interest in recent years. Artists. architects and designers seemed to be endlessly inspired by it's intricate aesthetics. I remember my joy at seeing the lace imprints embedded into the outside concrete walls of Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery. But increasingly, it's cultural associations and the extensive variety in lace techniques are also becoming increasingly celebrated. I was unsurprised to see that many of the featured artists were Japanese as having visited the country I can recognize how space (Ma) plays such an important part in their culture and therefore the investigation of this through the notion of lace seemed highly appropriate.

The exhibition booklet talks in depth of these techniques as well as the definition of lace. In Italy this would be 'stitches in the air'. Which brings to mind a rather poetic image. What is most interesting about the exhibition is that as well as what is physically there, the gaps, holes and spaces are denoted equal importance. Lace is undoubtedly a way of creating boundaries and structures and can be far more interactive than what first meets the eye. The exhibition plays extensively on the cultural associations of lace. White lace is traditionally linked to purity whereas black lace is seen as sensual. It is seen as a delicate fragile fabric but also a web of continuous connections spreading like a virus and forming defined boundaries. I suppose in a way it is portrayed as having a schitzophrenic personality and is beautiful yet dangerous. It is definitely a perspective I have not previously associated with lace.

The range of materials used within the exhibition is extraordinary- crystals, phosphorescent thread, polymers, video, tyvek, black wool, white cotton, hand-cut muslin, to even Jacquard punch-cards. Here are a few images for you to see for yourselves-

Diane Harrison

Suzumi Noda
Tanabata Lace

Piper Shepard
Lacing Space

Reiko Sudo

Tamar Frank
A thin line between space and matter

Chiharu Shiota
After the dream

Ai Matsumoto
No Reverse- Lace

Nils Volker
Forty Eight

Michael Brennand-Wood
Lace the final frontier

Atelier Manferdini
Inverted Crystal Cathedral

Annie Bascoul
Jardin de lit
lit de jardin

Naomi Kobayashi
Cosmos series

Artists from Denmark

After an incredible personal and cultural journey during my 4 month stay in Paris I am now back to London and back to reality. Although term started over a month ago it has been unbelievably hectic. Having been an exchange we were 6 weeks behind the others and left with only 4 weeks to conceive an idea and execute 6-8 quality woven samples to show at Indigo in Paris. Any weavers out there will know that even planning and making a warp can take weeks and then there's having to take into account the ancient uni looms which break ALL THE TIME! Anyway before talking more about the Indigo project I just wanted to mention some thoroughly interesting exhibitions I visited during my transition Paris London period at home in Wales.

1.Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown
A place in the country - Six artists from Denmark

This is a local contemporary art gallery where I used to work on reception. Usually it shows quite conceptual art and a lot of film work so this exhibition was definitely a refreshing change to the norm with significant emphasis on craft, tradition and heritage. 3 things which are often forgotten in our modern age. The group show consisted of 6 artists who's work was strongly connected to rurality and the notion of life at the margins. The majority of them live and work in an area called West Jutland which is in a remote location on Denmark's West coastline. The essence of the area, that of tranquility with only the sand dunes, birds and wind farms really resonate through the work which involves poetic texts, traditional needlecraft and textile installations hinting at stories of rural decline.

Thomas Wolsing
Collapsing House 2009
Cross-stitch textile

Karen Havskov Jensen
Rural Heraldry 2011
Hand knitted textile, found pitchfork

Karen Havskov Jensen
Around in the Reserve 2009
Hand made crochet, found furniture

Thomas Wolsing
Still Life 2011
Photographic print, clock, cross stitch textile

Thomas Wolsing
House of Despair 2010/11
Cross-stitch textile

I was particularly fond of these pieces because I found them extremely meaningful yet their message was portrayed in a subtle and thoughtful way. For example Karen Havskov Jensen's concerns about rural decline in West Jutland are portrayed through hidden symbols of decay carefully incorporated into her traditional crochet in the work Around in the Reserve. Theses appear in the form of fungi and cobwebs which are interweaved amongst the other more prosperous agricultural imagery associated with country life such as huntsmen and farm stock. Additionally the masking of old furniture by the crochet covering hints at the white sheeting used to cover furniture in a vacant house, I am really inspired by her drive to continue the use of traditional needlecraft techniques yet putting them into a new and innovative context.

Thomas Wolsing's work is equally emotive. His concentartion on the unravelling of threads acts as a clever metaphor for the unravelling of rural ways of life. He hints at the bygone era of embroidery, a traditional handicraft which used to act as a principal medium for rural people's self-expression. The transition of Denmark and growing polarization between the city and country is something of great interest to the artist and his ways of demonstrating this are fascinating.