Making Meaning Membership

I’ve been a part of Ruth Singer’s ‘Making Meaning’ membership for a few months. I didn’t really know her work well, I’d seen some bits. But after reading up on it, I realised my work lacked this ‘deeper’ meaning. Where every mark and material choice and size and shape is there for a reason.

Ruth Singer ‘pierced’

After beginning to go through the course materials, starting a sketchbook, reading up on a topic – I’ve hit a block.

It’s one I recognise from university. And one that leaves me confused and stops me from playing with textiles – my favourite thing to do.

Here is my question within the membership group, explaining where I’m at. (Responding to a post about going deeper in your research instead of broader).

Hi Ruth, I’ve been thinking about this for a while… I don’t have a very defined question but writing the thoughts below seems to be helping.

There is something about this way of working – bringing in meaning and deeper research – that I do really enjoy (when it flows and sparks) but it also brings up a sort of overthinking block where I start going around in circles and not thinking straight or getting anything done (thinking ‘too hard’, I think!).

I’m flicking through my sketchbook, which is loosely about marks of time/memories and the physical act of recording time/memories. V. broad and there are about 20 ideas there which I could go deeper into. Every time I try and focus in to one thing I seem to get pulled back out into another. 

In general I enjoy systematic approaches, my dyslexic brain appreciates order and a certain way of doing things. So I get lost in the abstract and overly ‘big’ but then am really interested in very ‘big’ topics: space/time/connection/memories.

I think I need a hook which draws me in to one area/question to explore which then allows me to go deeper into it. I guess my question is, do you have any quick-fire approaches to narrow the thinking?

Writing this ramble, I keep going back to a personal memory linked to my research which was the reason I started on this topic. But I can’t imagine how to begin deeper research on this memory, without going back to the overflowing sketchbook…

So… just leaving this here for now really. I miss the simpler days where I could embroider a river and be happy with it. For now, I’ll continue to overthink. (I hope the membership gods answer my call, too.)

Amazing Arachnophilia by Tomás Saraceno

When you come across something that is so incredibly interesting it stops you from doing anything except going back and reading and scrolling and reading. Not sure how I found it but the Arachnophilia project by Tomás Saraceno and his studio and collaborators is incredible.

It seems to be a series of projects, spanning years and covering many different things relating to Spider/Web – written like that because the link between a spider and its web seems to be more ingrained and integral than most people think.

“The spider’s world is one of vibration. Essentially blind, the web-building spider creates an image of the world through the vibrations it sends and receives through the web, which also functions as an organic and specialised instrument for transmitting these seismic signals. The spider/web is thus considered a material extension of the spider’s own senses, and—some argue—of its mind.”

It’s quite hard to explain all the facets of the Arachnophilia project. (there are bloody loads!) But what I was most drawn to is the 3D mapping of the webs. It is, understandably, a very hard thing to do, and something that I think no one had done before. From figuring out how to do it they learnt about how different species live side by side and build these networks of shared information.

From these maps they created large 3D structures for people to interact with.

I like the analogies they make on the site between webs / networks / society / the cosmic web. It’s hard to explain but it’s super interesting.

(Also, kinda relevant – not relevant I just found an amazing spider silk thing which I’ll write up about here very shortly!)

The enigmatic Kati Horna

The photographer Kati Horna took beautiful and surreal images.

When she was just 25 years old, she was commissioned to capture photographs of the Spanish Civil War (1937). Her view and depiction of what was happening within communities at the time of the war are thought to have drawn a lot of attention to the human cost that happens away from the trenches and action.

By focusing on the struggles, poverty and battles that were happening on the streets at the same time as in the trenches, ‘a female lens’, she provided a human viewpoint and contributed to global attention being drawn to Spain at the time.

I’ve been working on the costumes for a play set during this time so was looking at her work without even knowing it. It was actually after seeing her more surrealist work that I really took note.

She had a tumultuous life (it seemed! Obviously I can’t know!) But she was born in the Republic of Hungary during war time there and was always political and used her camera as her tool and her weapon.

After living in Spain and Paris, she fled to Mexico, which became her adopted country, and worked in a more surreal style. She seemed to work prolifically across photography, magazines and architecture.

I don’t really know why the photos grab me so much. There is the story telling and the symbolism and the style.

I just think they are great and there isn’t much about her online that I can find- just one giant book that I will add to my list to ‘one day’ buy. I found the newer images here.

Just a nice visual treat! Enjoy.

Re-imagining Madge Gill

Experiencing first hand this morning the power of stitching to bring people together. A lovely zoom with East London Textile Arts and – a project re-imaginging the work of Madge Gill. An open brief to stitch or explore her work in some way. 

Madge worked in such a way that it connects people. She used her drawing and her embroidery as a tool through a difficult life…and using her work as inspiration or a ‘food for thought’ jumping off point, stories were shared from the group of how stitching and drawing has helped people through illness, was used by family members through mental health traumas and how stitching was used as an escape from life during difficult times. 

Today, I really experienced the joy and power of sitting with an open, supportive, friendly group stitching and chatting together – it was lovely. 

The exhibition is in conjunction with Newham Heritage Month (who have a great website btw) is called Re-imagining Madge Gill and is in Little Ilford Baptist Church on Saturday 22 May (11-4pm).

The book about Madge Gill can be found here – I don’t know whether to order one to Portugal or pick it up when I’m in the UK. I think I will order it.

I was working on an embroidery that I had started a while ago, but it never got anywhere so I re-worked into it looking at it through the lens of Madge’s work. I always felt connected to her work and I always loved it. 

When I first saw the work of Madge Gill, probably around 10 years ago in the Welcome Collection, I think it actually validated the doodles and faces and pages that I always felt compelled to draw and do but didn’t think were ‘art’.  It also made me feel seen; not such a weird-o that I used drawing to process emotion, when it was more difficult for me to talk about things.

I think now I am opening up to my emotional side, maybe I don’t use drawing in such a way any more but I can still access the power of filling up a page and the need to fill it before you can let your mind go to anywhere else.

Here is the piece I was working on. It’s not finished but I will keep pottering along.

I wish I could go to the exhibition in person and meet the ladies. 

The most touching story that was shared, was by a woman named Rachelle Francis who’s late mother Diana was a prolific artist – who sadly shared similar struggles as Madge and also a similar style of work.

It was really moving to hear a child’s experience of a mother who couldn’t connect though words but used art as her vehicle, and her work was absolutely incredible! It can be found here.

I hope an art institution helps Rachelle show her mother’s work to the world – as it deserves to be seen.

Another artist that was brought up this morning that I hadn’t come across was Agnes Richter (pic above), who was admitted into a psychiatric institution when she was in her 50’s and embroidered heavily and autobiographically onto her jacket. This reminds me of a work by Katerina Jebb that I can across recently in AnOther Magazine that I wanted to talk about so I think I will link that together somehow and BRB.

For now here are some amazing images of Madge Gil’s drawing and embroidery works.

Just incredible, incredible work – free form large scale embroidery. Loose threads, canvasses spanning meters and meters. Just amazing – I would love to see more of the work in real life!

Networks in art, data patterns & unknown Inca mysteries

I’ve set myself a difficult task. To write about something that I don’t really understand. Networks in art, data patterns & unknown Inca mysteries… quite a mysterious title, ey? I don’t even really know where to start.

Oh yeah, this YouTube video introduced me to the mind boggling fact that seemingly random and completely desperate phenomena in the world can be calculated using the same fraction.

Drips from a tap & fluctuations in population….the exact same fraction. (Watch it as I definitely can’t explain it well)

Image from Veritasium’s YouTube video

As well as enjoying listening to very smart people talking about very smart things, I also really like the beautiful data graphics that come from it – like the obscure side-ways mountain above.

A very tuned-in University lecturer introduced me to the Information Is Beautiful books, and thus picked this up about me before I realised it about myself (and my way of thinking), that I like systems and patterns and how data can be translated into 2D & 3D art.

But a few failed attempts at mapping patterns and translating them to knit and I didn’t follow its potential.

The next ‘mind-boggling – way too clever for me – interesting but I don’t really get it’ thing that it almost related is the natural order of life and space and micro bacteria = fractals.

This book blew my mind. The iChing & The Genetic Code.

Everything is fucking connected.

So I have started playing with fractals – using textiles, a yarn splitting basket technique and bits of plastic bags. It looks as Blue Peter as it sounds and nothing to write home about …(so the blog post is here why…) but within the chaos I see a glimmer of possibility so I will carry on.

But the networks created through the textile technique reminded me of two things.

  1. The amazing ancient found knotted necklaces from the Inca period which hold secrets we will never understand, but prove that they were advanced in their civilisation and had reason to keep and count large amounts of data.

Inca Knots

2. Digital data imagery

I just listened to a really interesting online panel discussion held by the Serpentine, Hidden Patterns, and it reminded me of how much the visuals draw me in.

Images from slides by Albert-László Barabási & Burak Arikan

They talk about the content behind the aesthetics, the science, the actual data that the information is showing…. and I love the parallel between this and the Inca knots, these beautiful complex structures as a useful, 3D visualisation of the data they needed to keep a record of.

So after thinking about and looking at data visualisation, using the patterns of fractals and thinking about the shared visuals of all the parts that make up the world – human cells, bacteria, tree trunks, finger prints, weather patterns, maps of space – I feel a kind of awe, and I feel…difficult to explain, will come back to it.

But it brings forth the following questions –

  1. What would I want to record, in my life?
  2. What data is interesting and complex enough to produce rich results?
  3. Does it need to be collected data, can I just make it up or use already collected and organised data?
  4. Is this too big and complicated to even go in to?
  5. How can I simplify it to make it beautiful, like the Inca knots?

Spacious weaving art form three artists

I am often trying to incorporate spaciousness and lightness into my 3D weaving. Like I am trying to create art forms with lots of empty space. My experiments haven’t come to much, yet, but, I will keep trying.

Here are some artists that do it beautifully with different weaving and textiles techniques.

Sui Park

Her work reminds me of natural forms and organic matter with a synthetic contrast. Wonderful, strange sea-creatures.

I don’t know what technique she uses, it looks like it emerges as is, and I think that is part of the beauty. Delicate yet strong. Formed but moving.

Saskia Saunders

This weaving artist creates wonderful, light hand woven wall hangings. They have just the right ‘falling-apart-ness’ and have a nice energy and movement to them. Art pieces that are on the edge of peeling away from the wall and fleeting away from you.

Ruth Asawa

The incredible American artist Ruth Asawa sadly passed away in 2013. I’m gutted I missed her exhibition in London a few years ago. I believe that seeing these large wire forms in person, with their incredible skill and then the life that they have on their own hanging / swaying in a space would be magical. I find them very meditative and inspiring.

I’m about to get creatively distracted watching all the videos on her site, and I suggest you do the same.

I will post more WIP images here, I will add some of my trials if I feel brave enough.

Arthur Pastor

I discovered the work of the photographer Artur Pastor and his beautiful Photographs of life in Portugal in the 40’s and couldn’t.stop.looking!

I can vaguely remember the research train one evening..

Going from incredible Nick Cave-esq Portuguese festival costumes, to their traditional outfits, constantly distracted by great baskets, and then somehow THIS incredible body of work!

Photographer Artur Pastor was born in 1922, and has an enormous body of work showing scenes of Portugal life in the forties, fifties and sixties.

I LOVE that these images don’t seem to be staged at all. I love that they are mostly of women. I love that they show women making and women working and at the market and performing everyday tasks.

I LOVE that you can spy on their outfits and textures and details of the textiles of the times. I think the photos give a real sense of the day to day lives and some of the activities and duties they would be doing. 

Basically, I’m totally enamoured with his work, well everything I could find.

I have to admit I’m not an in-depth researcher type. Not completely surface skimmer either…. I haven’t got out books about him from the library or read any thesis papers, some light reading only.

Saying that, I 100% think that the photographs speak for themselves.

They play a small part of my immersion into a new country, my adopted country. 

My grasp of the Portuguese language is slow but getting there, I not very well read on the history really and am starting to pick up a bit of the literature that I’ve found translated to English. (recommendations more than welcome)

 I’m trying to find entry points for learning about the Portuguese traditions, histories and stories, and most interesting of all I find craft work and making. This series of photographs scratch that itch perfectly.

When it is safe to do so, I’m excited to travel to Tras Os Montes, to visit my partners 94 year old aunt, who has lived through the times depicted here and can tell me stories first hand.