‘Where are we going?’ is now the official title of my exhibition next March.
I have been thinking about how as an artist to reflect on the current crisis in Syria. There is so much in the news that it is overwhelming. Some articles that have affected me discuss what language to use to describe people, and the probable cause of the crisis.
Do you use politically charged words like ‘genuine refugees’, ‘economic migrants’, ‘illegal asylum seekers’? asked David Marsh, Guardian Weekly 11.09.15 or do you call them ‘people’? Are they just numbers – ‘marauding hordes’ – or are they people each with their own history?
An editorial 13.03.15 described the impact of drought 2007-2010 in the Fertile Crescent leading to collapse of agricultural communities, migration into cities, increased unemployment and poverty, which led to destabilisation of Assad’s regime. Are many of these people therefore climate refugees?
And over the last 2 months there have been so many descriptions of people’s attempts to reach safety in Europe in the face of blockades, fences, military and civilian police, the extortions and cynicism of people smugglers, the cost of bribes, the inadequacy of the transport systems, the horrendous conditions in the camps. My next door neighbour was himself caught up in the trek along the railway line from Budapest into Austria, although he had a ticket and was a tourist. In the end he shared a taxi with some of the refugees.
When I was making a series of map-clothes about the experiences of Jews in the last century, I was conscious of trying to name individuals when possible, to counteract the dehumanising attempts by the Nazis to reduce them to numbers, and the dehumanising impact on us all of the horrifyingly huge numbers of people killed. I feel that a similar approach is required for this project. As so much of the story is about the journey, I have started to make plaques of footsteps, and to find some of the real names and stories.
I have had a long break from writing the blog, (how could I compete with Corbyn mania?) which means that the marigold dress is now complete.
I found that tyvek is a wonderful material for making stencils. I just ordered a sample pack of A4 sheets of Tyvek, and now know that the thicker paper type tyvek works best.
I used 2 shades of darker blues for the leaf stencil, over a mid-blue background, rolled on with a decorator’s small roller, with more leaves on the skirt papers than the bodice.
I was concerned about what colour to use for the lino cut marigolds –what would work with the leaves and the map colour. I tried out various options and decided that burnt orange ink with a sprinkling of gold dust worked the best –and related to the use of marigolds and gold in Hindu festivals.
The lotus dress is complete at last. Hooray. I found it much harder to make than the map clothes I made a few years ago. Not sure why. More complex design? Fear of spoiling pristine white paper, whereas old maps are already fairly filthy? How time consuming it is to fold paper; the maths and the practicalities? Is it a really a bonus to work on a model rather than make the clothes flat on the table? I certainly allowed myself to be distracted from working in my studio rather too often. Walking with Wolves on Newton Fell in August for example.
Only 7 more clothes to go, and I hope I can speed up. I have decided to work on the marigold dress next. The marigold is the state flower of Gujurat. Many Gujuratis went to Kenya and Uganda and then had to leave in 1968-73. So I will be using the Kenyan and Ugandan maps for the marigolds – though I may use some of a Gujurat map if I run out of Kenya and Uganda.
The fabric design is somewhat driven by the size of map. I decided to make a halterneck shiftdress. So I made a rough design on the model (not Jolene anymore) and placed 4cm circles on it. That is as many circles as I can make from the map – (times 2 for the other side). As a result of that test I decided to use 2cm circles on the bodice which gives me a few more.
What could a marigold look like for a swinging 60s dress? Time for a free scribble. Then I had to weigh up what I liked against what I could achieve by either paper stencil or lino cut. The lino cut flowers will be printed on the map and then cut out. The paper stencil will be used for the leaves – and instead of making screenprints (as I do not have a screen and Artlab has closed) I will use a decorator’s roller, acrylic paint and a paper stencil. That experiment worked and the painted paper still folds.
Colours are go – I can’t stand the terror of working with white anymore. The late 60s and early 70s used a lot of bright colours, but just look at the map! I will have choose something a bit more subtle, and opt for unrealistic colours, which is also OK for the period – mid blue back ground and navy blue leaves perhaps.
I visited some artist friends who suggested that I look into using tyvek paper and think carefully about the lighting in the Storey Gallery.
A quick cruise through tyvek installation images on google was stunning. I especially liked the Tyvek dress designs from Hila Martuzana.
However getting hold of soft structure tyvek paper is not so easy in the UK, though I could get a small roll in the US.
I wonder if I should create some dresses to wear myself while I invigilate? I have a large collection of maps which relate to my family history, and have always had a personal map-clothes project in the back of my mind.
I have been suffering from cutting and gluing block, but have managed to get over it at last so the first dress is now on its way, but I need a lot of patience for creating pleats, and rather more ease with maths for the calculations.
Jolene, model for motorbike wear, is currently on loan to artist Catriona Stamp. Though initially excited by this new opportunity, Jolene is now expressing doubt and concern. ‘I thought an artist would have more appreciation for my face and figure, and help me get more interesting work, but the first thing she said to me was that I was too fat to fit into a picture frame, and she was going to have to make me slimmer! Well, as I am sure you can see, I am one of the slimmest models around, so that was a bit of a shock.’
‘I am not sure about her first piece of work which I am currently modelling. She says it’s a singlet, and she will be cutting it down to form a base for further work, but I don’t think much of it.’
‘She has offered to give me a make-over, if she has time and my employers approve. As if she thought I needed one! It’s true they don’t handle me too carefully in the motorbike shop, but I do my best to cover up the scratches on my arms and damage to my lip and buttocks, and I think she was very rude to refer to it. I am worried about accepting the offer in case she does something too contemporary, and then I couldn’t work in motorbike wear anymore. I can tell you she has some pretty weird stuff in her studio.’
When asked for comment Stamp said, ‘This is all a terrible misunderstanding. I would never make derogatory comments about someone’s body shape. I was only trying to explain what I needed for my next project. I think it is fair to say that nobody would be flat enough to fit into a picture frame. And as for the make-over – if she doesn’t want it, no one is going to force her to have it. I was just so sorry for the way she has been treated in the past which has left her with a lot of scarring, and I thought I might be able to help.’
So readers, what’s your advice for Jolene?
It is a long time since I did a print run – I have either made a collection of one-offs for prints in a suitcase for Holocaust Memorial Day 2014, or made digital prints – mainly due to body problems. But it is a particular pleasure to make a whole lot the same. I remember how delighted I was with my first ever print experience at Laurieston Hall of making 100 flower screenprints from a paper stencil – I didn’t know that was thought impossible, so I just did it.
I learnt to make lino prints from Mike Pemsel at a class run by Mid Pennine Arts way back in the 80s.
This week I set up a tiny print space with plastic sheet to protect the other stuff eg the sewing machine. Today it was a challenge to relearn old skills. First of all I forgot my colour mixing principles and squeezed out too much black in proportion to the green, so I have a lot of ink left on the board. Then I had to remind myself to get into a meditative space, as it is the only way to avoid mistakes.
It is a bit bad to blame the tools, but I began to wonder if the roller was slightly warped due to age, as inking up took me ages. But the plate is pretty good – there is only one small area of background that sometimes catches. And it is so hard to keep my fingers clean.
I can’t apply enough pressure to the press with my arms, so I have it on the floor and use my foot on the handle. I am much better pleased with these prints than the test ones I rubbed with a spoon, and I am glad to say that I can’t see the place where I had to glue a piece of the lino back on after a mistaken cut (lack of meditation clearly.)
I made the 20 prints of the whole lotus design that I needed for the dress, (it was another challenge to find enough drying space) then it was time for a break – coffee and burritos were on offer in the Forgebank Cohousing Common House for brunch, so I was very grateful for that.
Back to the studio to make 60 prints of flowers onto maps of Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Gujurat which used up 3 maps. The ink takes very differently on the map paper – which I should have foreseen. I am not sure that all the flower prints will be usable. Although all the maps are by Nimes, one map seems to have a different finish, which is causing problems. I was getting very hot and stripped off my T shirt and just wore my overalls.
Still lots of ink left, so I made 7 more prints and 21 more flower prints using other parts of the map of India, but I was beginning to make more and more mistakes, so I decided to clean up, using vegetable oil and an old toothbrush, and took the rags straight out to the bin to reduce fire risk.
We had fire awareness training last week at Halton Mill, which is where I have my studio. I was pretty useless and decided I would only start the alarm and then run away if there was a fire, and not try to use the extinguishers.
I ordered some maps on line – they turn out to be double sided, which is not so useful for me, and they are also rather boring in colour range. I need to visit my favourite second hand bookshop in Carnforth which has a wonderful collection of old maps, and these tend to have a more interesting colour range.
I have been wondering whether to work with the size of tofu paper I have, which will mean a lot of joins, or to source some larger sheets. If I use larger sheets can I buy them precoloured (in the shades I want to match each map colour) or will I have to buy a larger gelli plate to colour the white sheets?
I need more information about which countries people came from to Preston.The Lancashire Records Office has been very helpful too and sent me a huge list: Handlist 69: Sources for Black and Asian history. I had a great day in the Lancashire Archives in Preston on Tuesday, and discovered some early work by Gulab Singh. I will have to ask for permission to use the info, but was so pleased to find extracts from the 1981 census of Preston giving me accurate statistics of minority ethnic groups at that time.
However it can’t be very interesting to read a blog about statistics, so here is some of the art work I have been experimenting with this week – 2 test pieces; a stencilled shamrock design with cut out flowers and leaves from a map of Ireland, and a lino cut lotus with flowers cut from a map of India.
I wonder what style of dress design to create? Am I going to mirror the styles of the times, or am I going to imagine myself as a fabric and clothes designer and create my own style? In a way that is inevitable, and of course I am going to be careful not to make direct copies of Horrockses designs.
The other question is about process; what is going to be the most effective way to create the designs? I have experimented with making a stencil, which will work well for close repeat patterns, and with making a lino cut, which will work better for the larger more spaced-out designs.
I have just booked a large gallery for a solo exhibition in March next year – The Storey Gallery in the centre of Lancaster – and only £125 + VAT for a week. Why is it not more used?
Anyway, time to concentrate and make new work, though it is obvious that I will be putting up some of my old work too. I made a list of 15 possible ideas – and knocked off 12 – some of them still good, but requiring community input and/or professional help in the making, so probably needing more time. 3 ideas left. I thought I would want to do more site-based work, but these have been knocked off the list, so I am left with a desire to make work relating to migration of people, a) to Preston in 20th century, and around the world now.
The Preston ideas are more fully formed as most migrants worked in the cotton industry, so I will make paper clothes loosely based on Horrockses’ ready-made designs from the late 1940s to 1970s.
Need to research which countries people came from, and have enquired at the Harris Local History Library and Lancashire Records Office. History too recent for the census. Preston’s web page says ‘Asia and Caribbean’. Does that mean mostly Indian subcontinent post partition? Are there any personal stories collected anywhere? Lancashire Evening Post? And clearly I need to have a good look at some Horrockses’ designs in the Harris Museum.
I thought I would replace the flowers on the fabric with national flowers of the countries of origin and cut out of maps ditto. Time for an experiment. I tried making a base pattern on white Washi paper using my gelli plate, cut a rose out of a Shropshire map, and glued it with acrylic matt medium. I am pretty pleased with that. It would be nice to have larger sheets, perhaps pre-dyed. More research.