Sunday, 19 July 2009

A celebration of craft with Craftspace at Anthony Gormley's One & Other fourth plinth project

It’s interesting how things work out; Anthony Gormley’s One and Other Fourth Plinth project in Trafalgar Square could be described as us members of the public “making our own damn art”. Actually, “Make Your Own Damn Art!” is a call to action that I associate with Bob & Roberta Smith another of the artists who was a shortlisted for the Fourth Plinth Project.

Earlier this year I led some Saturday art club sessions at the Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre. At the end the children’s “Common sense with attitude” billboards were displayed in the gallery alongside Bob & Roberta Smith pieces and it was fun to discover that some of the gallery visitors were unaware that any had been made by children!

I was in London this weekend and synchronicity would have it that two people that I know Deirdre Figueiredo, Director of Craftspace and Kate Durrant, Lichfield District Council’s Civic Secretary) had their slots on the plinth not only on the same day but actually with time slots next to each other.
Deirdre was promoting the Slow Movement in crafts and also promoting a more sustainable lifestyle by recycling an old knitted jumper.
I’d already chatted to Kate and knew that she planned to make a set of panoramic drawings. I first met Kate about 15 years ago at Lichfield College where she was one of the art tutors and over the years we have occassionally been in life drawing classes together. She is really talented and I look forward to seeing the finished work.

During Deirdre’s session on the plinth there was a buzz of activity amongst friends and family who had come to support her in the community act of making. I’d intended to bring along my “never to be finished” Kaffe Fassett needlepoint tapestry (I’ve being doing it very sporadically over the last 21 years!) but I forgot so was very glad that my friend Jane Porter brought me this lively day-glo orange yarn and some needles so I could get clicking. On the webcam of Deirdre’s session you can hear the buzz of chatting from the crowd below; there’s nothing like a group of people sewing patchwork, knitting, crocheting and embroidering to draw people in and start off conversations.

I met:
-Mary Spyrou a writer and tutor (at the Morley College) specialising in textiles from diverse cultures. She is interested in traditions and techniques and I guess takes an anthropological approach to textiles. I mentioned learning to knit with three needles while I was in Shetland when I was a teenager.
-Momtaz Begum–Hossain a crafts writer and tutor was also there doing some colourful patchwork. She had already blogged about Deirdre & Craftspace on the Craft CafĂ© blog

-Kei Ito made Deirdre’s wonderful costume. It was perfect to wear on the plinth as it swayed gently in the breeze and reflected the light from the spotlights. It certainly gave her an etherial presence. I have experimented with nylon bias horsehair hemming braid similar to that used by Kei Ito to make this costume but Kei Ito is an exceedingly talented designer and costume maker who has taken this material and many other unlikely materials to the heights. See her wonderful sculptural costumes and wearable art pieces here.

Here is Kei Ito dressing Deirdre in her "back-up" costume (she had come prepared with dry weather and wet weather options).

While on the plinth she explained a bit about Craftspace's mission to develop people, ideas and opportunities through contemporary craft.
Craftspace is a Birmingham based organisation which promotes craft, curates touring exhibitions and starts debates around craft and the handmade in general. Their current project is a collaboration with Helen Carnac called, Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution

She read some excerpts form “The Craftsman” by Richard Sennett. And just as her hour was drawing to a close she started to cast on her new garment to continue the story of the reclaimed yarn. Exceedingly brave of her as she had only just learnt to knit the day before and now exposed to the world on the Sky Arts webcam she was practicing what she was preaching- learning a new craft and joining the community of artists, artisans, and general members of the public who enjoy the therapeutic and satisfying activity of making with their own hands. And of course, she had got us all involved in making our “own damn art”. Once back home, I watched the video and felt that she had very cleverly linked together performance art, with oratory and education. And by inviting others to bring along work to make, had also magnified the energy by making it a collaborative event; a piece of art that I feel Antony Gormley would be proud of.

Jed Baxter (another person that I chatted to at the base of the plinth) Tweeted this photo of Deirdre
And here are Deirdre’s tweets
Should Deirdre require anymore refresher lessons on knitting I could lend her my own precious knitting book. My nan Jessie Graham gave it to me when she taught me to knit when I was six years old.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Crossings, cakes and the Couture of Mary Little's Bius designs.

Look at what’s happened to the Great British Victoria Sponge. It’s been supersized. I had a slice of this humungous cake last week when I was down in Cirencester delivering Reg to New Brewery Arts for their first Open. I applied to this exhibition as soon as I saw that Charmian Adams was to be one of the selectors. The theme of the exhibition is “Crossings” so I decided that "Reg" was most suited to this show. Sometimes I think that he reminds me of some futuristic bridge over a motorway (something a bit Will Alsop?) but he also shows the crossing from this world to the world of Frillip Moolog.

For me those 1950’s photo images of the mountains & lakes (complete with lone fisher) on the table mats are so kitsch and at the same time poignant. They remind me of the Rocky Mountains as viewed on my Mum’s old Viewfinder. Wow what a different world the viewfinder took me to…

I have wanted to meet Charmian Adams after reading an article in Crafts Magazine (2007) where she talked about her passion for craftsmanship, and her personal collection of contemporary handmade objects. In the magazine photograph I spotted a Mary Little chair (I think its “Valerie” from the Coat of Arms Collection) and I was even more interested in this passionate collector and also finding out more about Mary Little.

I took these photos of Magret now part of the V&A's collection of Contemporary Furniture.
I quickly realised that I already had images of “Liz” another of Mary’s chairs in my source file from university days. She was shortlisted for the 1999 Jerwood Applied Arts Prize. Liz also features in the Domestic Animals section of Peter Dormer’s book, “Furniture today- its design and craft” (1995). She and her partner Peter Wheeler now live and work in Connecticut USA where their design business bius is based. Back in the early 80’s she was at RCA doing her MA in furniture design and I was in Edinburgh at Heriot-Watt University studying Accountancy. But we do have plenty in common including: skills in sewing and dress making and a love of textures achievable from textiles. She approaches upholstery via dress making and tailoring techniques (as I have been doing). We both have an interest in costume, mine more the musical / showbiz end and hers from regional and historical costumes.
"Over the years they have developed a unique expertise in upholstery derived from contemporary production techniques with an inspirational root in semi-soft, artefacts from a breadth of cultures, such as ancient Eastern costume, medieval European headwear , and contemporary sportswear." (from their tutor profile on California College of the Arts).

The bius website now has a plethora of images of their highly sensual and sculptural furniture designed both for private and public commissions.
As usual I am drawn to mavericks who plough their own furrow making the work that they feel inspired to make whether or not it is seen as being "in fashion".
Mary Little and Peter Wheeler aim to make so much more than furniture they make creations which (in their own words) are "rich in spirit and character" to enhance your sense of well being. I can believe that sitting in one of their chairs is very definitely an experience.

I spoke to Charmian Adams at the Opening event on Friday and am looking forward to taking her up on her very kind offer to visit her home for an audience with “Valerie” and I am also sure that at some point in the future that my path and Mary Little’s will cross. I am confident that she is completely in tune with the world of Frillip Moolog.

And the link between cakes and Mary Little? My Nan taught me how to bake. As I have mentioned before Nan was a very special person to me and much of my work draws on my childhood memories, a great many of which are of times spent with Nan. I still remember the special shopping trip to Woolworths in Dunfermline when I was about six years old. We went specially to choose this, my very first recipe book.

I have always loved costumes with overskirts and many of my childhood drawings have dresses which could be described as “billowing”. Dominic Lutyen’s description of Little’s “Binita, “…which looks like a billowing couture gown in furniture form….”, explains it all!

Contrast the rustic charm of these Viennese Whirls with this luxury design in a top London cake emporium!
Opening times and details of the 38 artists exhiiting in "Crossings", New Brewery Arts, Cirencester.