Wednesday 27 April 2011

Bonhoga, Bye Bye

Urban Baskets is only on for another few days in Shetland and yet it seems only the other day that we were unpacking it up there. If you were thinking of visiting it this is a gentle reminder to do so before the 2nd May when it will be packed up again to head back to Dorset and then on to the National Vlechtmuseum in the Netherlands, where it gets a three month showing.

Sadly, for me, and despite our best efforts to find more venues, it will sit in its boxes for two months prior to going on show again. By all accounts the people who have seen it so far have got a great deal of pleasure from it, so it seems a shame that more people in Britain have not been given the chance to see it. It will return briefly to the UK in 2012. I will, however, be teaching at Walford Mill in Dorset over the weekend of 23/24 July (the details are in the side panel of this blog under Teaching).

Meanwhile I have started on a new body of work that I will be exhibiting at the Palais des Eveques at Issigeac in the Dordogne for the month of July. This exhibition will be a constituent part of the Fete de la Vannerie that will be held there on the17th July. I have called this exhibition ‘Tri and Leaf’, a play of words, not only on the title of a Tolkien book but also with French and English,' Tri' is the French word for the sorting and selecting of things for recycling. The work employs a mixture of recycled and natural materials, so it seems appropriate!

Some months back I received an invitation from Jette Mellgren and Jan Johanson to participate in an outdoor event in Odense, Denmark this May alongside other artists and makers from all over Europe. Much as I enjoy traveling, and it is always fun being with other makers, I also need to make new work. So, reluctantly, I turned it down. Ultimately, the work I do in the studio is the catalyst for everything else as it opens up new opportunities to exhibit, teach or participate in events. Making new work is therefore vital and needs time and space dedicated to it. Constantly hopping from one event or place to another or working to other people’s briefs makes it very difficult to do anything truly new or original with the limited time left. Usually, of necessity, you have to return to previously worked out ideas. Sometimes this is appropriate but I also need the challenge of setting my own briefs and developing new ideas.

The next two months are therefore dedicated to making new work, whether the garden a.k.a ‘The National Park’ will agree to this arrangement is another matter altogether!

CEO 'The National Park'

Friday 22 April 2011

Baskets at Sainsburys

Of course, there are always baskets at Sainsbury’s. But they are nothing like the ones that Robert and Lisa Sainsbury collected for their World Art Collection which is currently housed in the architectural delight by Norman Foster that is the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia. Some of their baskets are on show in the current exhibition, 'Basketry Making Human Nature' along with pieces from other collections, and some specially commissioned works. The curators, led by Professor Sandy Hislop, have put together a group of baskets and basketry that, they believe, have in some way, been instrumental in the construction of culture. It makes for a visually stunning exhibition even if only viewed in terms of the forms and techniques on display. 

Added bonuses were the documentary films. One recent film included a clip about rush weavers in East Anglia (probably recorded in the 1950’s or 60’s) where a very 'posh' woman managed to evade answering any of the interviewer’s questions whilst fiddling slowly with some rushes. Meanwhile a “Mr. Percy" who was obviously in the employ of the ‘posh’ woman silently wove a rush mat at the speed of light behind her. The interviewer, in keeping with the social mores of the time, did not ask Mr. Percy what he was doing  but, instead, he asked the ‘posh’ woman what Mr. Percy was doing -  a stereotypical sociological treat! The exhibition is on until the 22 May and sadly will not tour so try to catch it if you can.

The degree to which baskets and basketry have been culturally constructive is a fascinating and highly debatable topic. It was the theme for the multi disciplinary conference, 'Basketry and Beyond: Constructing Cultures' held at UEA last week and was explored intensively by the group of international speakers which included archaeologists, art historians, basket makers, environmental artists, ethnographers, biologists and neuroscientists - to name a few. It was mental gym of the best sort. My favourite topic, i.e. basketry explored in directions that I am unlikely to have considered in any other situation. It was high quality brain food and I came away exhausted but replete and very inspired in terms of thinking and making. It seems strange that one can come up with visual ideas after listening to people talk but it sometimes happens and is very exciting when it does.

Prior to the conference I ran a coiling and looping workshop for two days at the Sainsbury Centre which resulted in some very creative experiments by the 15 students. It is always a pleasure to look at all the work at the end of these workshops and see how different each piece is. All the students are taught the same techniques but, because they have brought their own materials and personalities to the workshop, no two pieces are ever alike.

In the ‘show and tell’ at the end of a workshop I ask the students to tell each other about their experiences over the two days and to comment on anyone else’s work if they want to. This is always rewarding to do. Invariably, someone in the group who seems to feel that they have not done anything particularly special, gets singled out by their fellow students, for having created something that touches them. Even though I may have said that I like what they have done, it always means so much more to that particular student to hear it from their peers rather than to hear it from me.
One thing bothers me though why is it usually only women that come to these workshops?

During the conference, speakers referred to the division of labour between the sexes that traditionally goes on with basket making in many cultures. Often if the women used the baskets, they made them, and conversely if the men used them. Consequently, you could almost say that if the basket was going to be used indoors it would be made by women, and if used outdoors made by men. Perhaps this is still true, as I note that last week in Galicia, Carlos Fontales ran a course making the very beautiful traditional 'canastros' or grain stores, which live out of doors and unlike many of the more 'domestic' basket making workshops he teaches the students were predominantly male! You can see pictures of their work here. 

Man with a (very nice) basket at market!
But where does that leave the shopping basket that is used by women, and some men, out of doors?

Sunday 10 April 2011

Spring and a Bum Bag

Looking towards mainland Shetland from west Yell
My time in Shetland flashed by, it seems no more than a few days ago that we made the slow voyage north. Perhaps it was the excitement of setting up the exhibition again, the anxiety of having an ambulance rush a house guest off Yell into A and E and this combined with the dramatic changes of weather that have left me feeling as though I might have just dreamt it all. Being spat out of the plane into the 25C heat and sunshine of Poitiers yesterday  was a bewildering experience. When I left four weeks ago it was still winter, now it seems we are into summer  but where did spring go? The only evidence that it might have happened  are the withered stems of  daffodils.

The gallery tour at Bonhoga and the  workshop last weekend at Quarff were apparently enjoyed by all. The theme of Coiling and Looping for the workshop resulted in a wide variety of objects and although I don't normally select individual items of students work for comment, because everyone always does interesting things, I am sure the other students would agree, in this instance, that  Kristi Cummings' new take on the  'bum bag' deserves  a special mention for its audacity and ingenuity.  The coiling and looping were all on the bottom!

Kristi Cummings' bum bag
There are also  apocryphal tales of people visiting 'Urban Baskets' more than once and  the exhibition was honoured with a 'review' in the Shetland Times which you can read here:

On Monday I head back to England  to Norwich where I will be teaching a two day workshop at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia. These workshops  tie in with their current exhibition 'Basketry: Making Human Nature' in which I  have a piece of work on show. This will be followed by a conference "Basketry and Beyond: Constructing Cultures" where, on Friday  I will be delivering a paper on the global use of recycled and post consumer waste amongst basket makers.  This will be the first time I have had an opportunity to deliver a paper  publicly since obtaining my doctorate in 2003 and I am looking forward to it, but with some trepidation!