Beginning a series – extension from Pt5

After the miniature works completed for the SAA competition, I had a real burst of inspiration. Working tinier still I subdivided an A3 page of 300gsm watercolour paper into 18 sections. Referring to the sketches I had made the other day I selected the most expressive lines and transferred them to the mini cards. I limited the drawing area but cutting a small circle stencil so that the line would be confined within this area.

After that I worked with the splattering and dripping and application of asemic script in black ink and watercolour and red watercolour.

These emerged other-to-myself. I’ve had to wait until some daylight to accurately photograph each drawing. This pause for reflection has been useful since I’ve been considering the connections between the pieces. Do I cut them up into the individual cards, leave them as they are, turn them into pages of a book? The more I look the more I realise what I have in front of me is some kind of dictionary of inner language to mood-my own interpretation of hurt/harm/ abuse trauma: a translation through my inner language. Is it a field guide? An Encyclopaedia? Spotters guide? Trackers’ notes? I am taken with the idea of this working as a series which could be extended and explored with different colours signifying different collections. The looks too much like id cards for me to leave the series untitled.

I like the idea of these relating to creatures within a landscape with their own markings and identifying features. Each has their own identity – a topography. Yes, this is it: since Topography is the study of the shape and features of the surface of the Earth and other observable astronomical objects including planets, moons, and asteroids. Perhaps I could stretch this to my inner topography. This is something exciting to capture my enquiry with. As the topography of an area could refer to the surface shapes and features themselves; this opens opportunity for textile exploration, and finally there is breadth for word play- the descriptive element of topography. Which reminds me, there is the beautiful ‘Topography of Tears’ artwork by Rose-Lynn Fisher: in her accompanying text she clarifies she is not ‘making any Scientific claims in my work though, nor any declarations about anything except perhaps the poetry of life.’ These works I’m making search for my inner language, the inner poetry that speaks the unspeakable, they are my ‘Topography of Concealed/Hidden Harm’ and I want to leave each ‘plate’ as only having a numerical value in order to allow interpretation by the viewer. I’ve oscillated between the words ‘concealed’ and ‘hidden’. Hidden being the past of ‘hide’ which takes its roots from ‘hide’ and in an animals’ skin – so to be ‘under the skin’, conceal has its roots in Latin ‘concelare’ from which we also get the term ‘cellar’ and ‘cell’ (which is both a room and the scientific cell – the cavity in an organism). To me harm is something that invaded, and hid itself even from me. It got under my skin. I didn’t make a space to secrete it which is the sense I’m getting for conceal. Conceal seems more active, hidden more passive. I thought I had escaped unharmed but it is only later after the healing begins that hurt can be revealed. Maybe I ignore all this and simply entitle the series ‘Topography of Harm’ after all that!

So, I release my brain to unlocking the enquiry that offers itself up to me – could require the invention of index and glossary and appropriate book form, the generation of volumes, editions, new series…it will also keep my mind ticking over as a transition from the end of MMT to assessment to commencing my next course and continues to explore strands that have surfaced from Part 5. When I send MMT for assessment I know I will have to freeze activity on this blog, so I have already decided I will go back to use the blog that I opened for ATV. I can then rotate between the 2 blogs.

‘Topography of Harm’ Series. Exhibits 1-18




Pt5: Stage 7: Reflection

I’ve sat with my prototype from Stage 6 for the week, and having shared it on Instagram it has now gone out into the world unsupported by my words. Here on the blog I get a chance to reflect on the final outcome of part 5.

My initial line of enquiry gleaned from reviewing the previous parts of MMT was to consider how to impart Roland Barthes’ ‘grain of voice’. Could I create a piece that gave materiality to my body, my inner language? Could I create a prototype that conveys ‘the materiality of the body speaking its mother tongue.’

Further investigations into asemic text (first brought to my consciousness through the work of Joachim Koester, in turn inspired by Henri Michaux) in both 2d and 3d form, enriched this investigation into delivering the inner ‘mother tongue’. Sketching through a gestural form continued to deliver the materiality of energy and dynamism I seek,  my energy paintings. I continue to be curious about how to show sound and feeling visually – this inner language that is beyond and before words. Splattering and dripping became dominant modes of embellishing the surface with a look back at the bloodied pieces of part 4. ‘Blood’ splatters, drips and gestural drawing became essential elements. These kept recurring as the ‘mother tongue’ that demanded expression, yet the body seemed omitted from investigations, the samples seemed too uni-layered. There was a level of materiality lacking that I searched for. Various sculptural interpretations of these gestural drawings followed – was this it? There was still something missing as I searched for reflections – things seen but unseen, a peering into peering through. A thought tiptoed in on the sideline ‘re-covering’ an inner language rather than ‘dis-covering’. This hidden/reveal on-going interest played away on the edge of my subconscious whilst I explored an inspirational festival of arts local to me ‘Estuary 16’. It was one of the fortuitous yet unplanned moments. As was the timely direction by Jennifer signposting me to the artist Imran Qureshi. Here everything started clicking into place.

I’d been wrestling with my tutor feedback from Part 4 and had a significant problem to solve. How do I say what I want to say in the way I want to say it without being too embodied? Qureshi’s work offered a path. A bloodbath can be tolerated when it is disguised by the intricate beauty of design. Pain can be seen and unseen depending on what your eye chooses to focuses on. Here the notion of folding came back into sampling. Then pleating revealed a disparity of surface – there is more material below the surface, twice as much in fact. The final piece had found its form. A beautiful intricate surface (looking back through my feedback this accolade had been earned by my lace printing in MMT and previously in ATV) that hides the bloodied surface that no-one want to see. The pleating is a play on the notion of blind. People don’t want to see the hurt, the blood, the wounds of abuse. But, I learnt from Qureshi that ‘an element of attraction and repulsion at the same time…Something that invites you in and then repels you. Or repels you at first, and then invites you in later – working in both ways’ can be delivered. I still get the pleasure of the accidental mark in the bloodied splatters – there is still the trace of the unspeakable, yet there is some control and freedom in the surface lace monoprints. This satisfied making the work more complex, but it offered a further problem as to how to create these two layers as one without one slightly messy process contaminating or being contaminated by a significantly messier process.

This moved to the final resolution of the piece. Two discrete layers were to be made. The lace print surface and the blood-splattered under-surface. These were then sliced into mathematically precise strips – each blood- splattered section being twice the width of the lace. This left me with a number of lace strips that were not needed – I like the idea that the pain underneath dictated how much ‘surface beauty’ was needed to cover it up. The layers demanded to be stitched together, leaving loose threads. This took some time to get right!

The final piece demands handling by its viewer to be impacted by the pulling apart of the blind’s folds to reveal the hidden layer beneath. Both sides must be held and pulled apart. After it will not return freely to its closed state unless it is gently, yet firmly, pushed closed with the pressure of a hand or two. The secret, when revealed, has to be purposefully re-hidden. I hope this creates its own narrative as well as the visual questions the piece may ask.


Stage 6: prototype/maquette-making

I’ve got a bit lost in the admin of this course and blog because I had a Big Idea being grown. It meant I had to walk away from all thinking on the topic.

I have learnt this from the course. This incubation of which I’ve shared before is a critical part of my creative process and I have learnt not to feel afraid of it. There are always new ideas, new breakthroughs, new epiphanies. I am hooked on that gasp of breath when inspiration takes hold. I am hooked on the birth of unforced ideas. Don’t get me wrong the stage before this calm is hell. But I know recognise a pattern in my creative process. After the self doubt, the despair, the brink – comes abandonment. Just being back in the world of time and season.


However, this is not a giving up… I recognise that now, or a giving in. This is the slack tide. And then boy when the tide turns does it rush in or rush out!

Final piece formed. A week. no blogging (reading or writing). No input of visual food. No reading or research. Nothing. not one conscious thought on the course. Then last night after hacking through the garden and cutting the lawn and doing practical work the ideas poured out. I knew what to do and how to do it.

Get out the paper, the watercolour, the brushes, say what I need to feel with the splatters and an asemic bleed of a sentence. Listen to trance music loud. Get the hand and eye and pulse going.

Then, two layers, slicing with mathematical precision, re-piecing with the machine:

And the final piece emerges from beneath my hands.

Stitching the piece together

The Final Piece


Stage 3: Sample making

It is with such excitement and relief that I can share…I’ve found my line of enquiry for the Final Piece of Part 5. Its genesis is owed to the astute wisdom and questioning of Inger and the support and understanding of my Clan. I cannot thank you all enough. To learn that others can know you and it’s safe… that others can know you and it is good…this is Significant.

Three things were pointed out to me and I considered them. I played with them, rolled them around in my head, then walked round to the village shop to get some milk. There were leaves on the floor. Ping. Leaves are the way a tree gets rid of the stuff it no longer needs, its form of excretion. Then I considered the 7 characteristics of living things. Is my art living? Does it breathe? Does it reproduce? Do I nurture it? Does it show sensitivity (which brought me to look at my tutor’s points from a different and very much critical and necessary angle).

Sensitivity…how do we receive the world… through our skin, through our hands. Then I investigated every saying I knew on hands: pushing for depth here. Many many ideas but none that sparked. I weighed up making plaster cast hands, finding lost gloves, staining silk gloves… all possible lines of enquiry but all feeling somewhat over-thought. I went back to those leaves. Turning over a new leaf. The leaf being stained with all the colours of the chemical that would poison the tree if they were left in situ.

I considered resin capturing the gloves stained with the poison of hurt. But there was still no click. I knew the bloodiness could not be abandoned. I just had to make it more subtle, more of a surprise, more selected, more sensitive. Then it came to me in a flash. People don’t want to see hurt. People don’t want to know that if harm can happen to me it can happen to you, or next door or your family. None of us want that to be a reality. Even if it is. It’s not my harm, the projection of my hurt, the realisation of my pain that was too explicit in my work with the bloodied clothing, it is that it is too ‘in your face’. None of us really want to see it. And then Bam! Blind. Blinding, Venetian blinds to shut out the sun. Blinds concertina, they shrink down and expand. I had unnecessarily worried that I was being asked to condense myself on the blog. I was afraid I was being silenced. That is my hang up. My issue. I’m willing to take the risk, even though my tutor must see the brick wall I’m hurtling towards… I have to speak, I have to write, I have to say what I need to as I will never be silenced again.

The needing to be blind made me consider how blinds are made and work, made me reconsider what the pleating and folding of part 1 said. I looked at it again through my hands.

There is twice as much under as there is over with this type of pleat. Another ping! I love this, that the surface that is seen is half the size of what lies beneath. So, the surface seen has to be girlish (like Emin according to my tutor) and reading my feedback the lace print had these qualities. I brought out the gelliplate again and tried various medium and papers including yupo paper. The top surface will be a beautiful ‘handmade’ traditionally feminine textile printed surface, the underside will be the bloodied surface. Then I’ve got to work out how to engineer the expanding (the breathing out) and the condensing (the breathing in)… drawstring holds a fascination at the moment.

I cannot show Sample 1 that is so deserving of its title here as the blog will not allow me to upload the video, but Instagram does the honours:

The relief to have found my line of enquiry is second to none.


Part 5 – Artist Research

As I consider the impact of my feedback for part 4, I continue to spiral round again to Imran Qureshi. In my feedback the bloody pieces of part 4 have created a dilemma that I’m not sure I yet comprehend, but will come clear to me as I discuss matters with my tutor in due course.

I am still taken with giving voice to these silenced utterances. So I looked again at Qureshi. And Bourgeois. And Emin. And my feedback. And ponder. Qureshi concerns himself with life and death, violence and beauty. He enjoys these dualities. Yet he consistently claims that his art concerns what is going on around him – within him, in his local environment, in the World. I am concerned at giving sound or shape to those invisible wounds that people won’t tolerate to be seen or heard.

I’m typing this and I don’t know how to write clearly. I’ve reflected on my feedback but respect my tutor’s request not to put the report online. It has been suggested that I need to develop more subtlety and sensitivity. Qureshi ‘wanted an element of attraction and repulsions at the same time…Something that invites you in and then repels you. Or repels you at first, then invites you in later – working in both ways.’ There needs to be surprise and questions. Thus my current exploration as to what pain looks like and how it would take on form in a particular space. But there’s a concern as to what my pieces say without story to support them. Then I found this on Qureshi (from The Guardian):

‘But the meaning is not immediately apparent without the installation’s title – And They Still Seek the Traces of Blood, a quotation from the Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, writing about those whose suspicious deaths have never been solved.’

Qureshi works at these extremes of scale: the Roof Garden installation at the Metropolitan Musuem of Art in New York., his miniatures drawing on the Mughal tradition he is trained in – e.g. the works for the Barbican ‘Where the Shadows are so Deep, the 3d works, the giant canvases such as ‘Give and Take’…

…why is ‘scale’ so contemporary a concern or proof of artistic intention? I think the Egyptians had this one covered  from pyramids to hieroglyphs to mummified crocodiles. Why is it still seen as demonstration of skill/talent/prowess? What is it about scale that has us so enthralled?

I think there’s also a certain arrogance – look how much space I can fill with my work, look how much room I need, look how many resources I can devour…hmm…think there’s more to consider here.


‘Imran Qureshi: The Roof Garden Comission’ The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 2013