Friday, 23 March 2012

Beginning to work in a series

Dear Diane
Sometime ago I wrote and told you about the little breakthrough I had in discovering the thin lines in my work, remember? Well, I have had another breakthrough. At least I think it is a breakthrough not a breakdown but I will let you be the judge of that.

I am just starting the Working in a Series course that Lisa Call runs. This has caused me to consider what my series for the course should be.

The general advice on this ( not just on this course but on other art and writing sites too) is that you start by identifying what your passions are then narrow and narrow and narrow. After I discovered the example of George Rodrigues who has a collection featuring a canine in a certain hue I am calling this Blue Dog thinking. As opposed to Blue Sky thinking, get it? Well, it amuses me.

Anyway, I think this is probably easier if you are a visually inspired person to begin with. If you love landscape getting from that to beaches to shells to conch shells as a subject seems quite linear to me. The trouble is – and I know you are the same- I am inspired by conceptual things. Words and Ideas. And so many of them Not so easy to pin down.
So, I had in mind that I needed to do this exercise when I started to read a catalogue called Ethiopian passages  CafĂ© BocBoc with tea and thick hot buttered toast and I got seriously excited. Really, really excited abut what I was reading. So, I rushed home, grabbed my creativity journal and wrote down all the words that made me feel that way from the two introductory essays. 

Then I looked back over about the last two years sets of journals in which I had jotted down ideas for quilts and found that many of those same words were already down on my pages. So I did a composite list (over a special pot of Moroccan Mint Tea) and ended up with a big page of words about big things. Things like Exile, TransNationality, Culture and Hybridity. Words that tend to get written with capital letters. Not helpful! I knew I was closing in on something but it was a bit like hunting a polar bear in a blizzard.*

 Which is about the stage I was at when I sent you the private email bemoaning the fact that I knew I was interested in other cultures and found my own boring to put into art but that I was afraid of stealing from other cultures. You told me to find my own viewpoint to those cultures, remember? I tried to do that but it only got me as far as knowing that it was now like hunting a polar bear only by air, looking down rather than face to face on the ground.*

I am sorry - this picture refuses to rotate no matter what I try.. will you just tilt your head for me?

 Now, one of my mottos in life is : everything can be reduced to a flow chart. I reduced entire years classes on my law degree to a two page flow chart for revision purposes. So, I began to draw. And this is what I got.
Which makes it immensely clear to me if not to you! In essence, I am not making art about the other cultures or about my own. I am interested in the place between them and the process of movement from one to the other.
I expended this into an artist statement at first writing it with lots of tentative phrases like “I would like to” and “I want to” in it and then refining it to make it much more declaratory. The end result was this:
I make art about the Place Between. By this I mean the place between both physical borders between countries and the experiential boundaries between peoples. I  create pieces about the physical movement from one culture to another, stopping short of assimilation, and also about the attitudinal movement from one culture to the other culture stopping short of colonisation.  My Art  deals with  the loss of homeland and the gaining of new experiences. It is about the conflict zone, the place where tension exists, where resolution and accommodation must be found. I am interested in the hybridity and trans-nationality created when cultural fusion occurs and in the disconnection and disturbance when it does not. I am concerned with the macro events of forced migration for political or economic reasons and the micro experiences of relocation. I explore personal histories and narratives to illuminate global truths and to examine the tension between concepts of diversity and cultural authenticity. In doing this I pay particular focus to the experiences of women, the functioning of cohesive religious groupings and the social justice issues which cause or are caused by clashes or culture or expectation.
Now that sounded rather ambitious to me. It felt like me yes, but a me way, way, way into the future. Except there was a little feeling that I had probably started down the road a bit with some of my Twelve by Twelve quilts. So I looked back at both my Theme and my Colourplay galleries. Out of 24 quilts only two did not deal with the issues of conflict between expectations or cultures in some way, albeit that some were more obvious than others. Of the two that did not they both dealt with movement – one swimming and the other a physical moving house.

I was truly amazed!

So now I now that I have an overarching theme that I understand and can articulate to myself, and visualise thanks to my little chart, I have to narrow it down so that I can put it into individual quilts I need to start focusing on a recognisable visual langauge in which to consitently portray my interests.

Wordle: artist statement 4
I will spare you the narrowing process which involved more journalling and the distraction of making Wordle pictures.
I know there are may way in which I can deal with the overaching theme and many potential series with sub series to come. However, I had to remember I was not choosing my life’s oevre. I was picking a topic to focus on for an eight week class. So, I have decided to do portraits of Camila Batmanghelidjh ( whch is ironic as I still have to google her to get the spelling right!) As a Persian refugee with disabilties from a wealthy family now working with violent and disadvantaged children in deprived areas of London I think many aspects of her life illustrate the themes I have set out. And I had been thinking of basing a quilt on her for a show about Women and social Change I had been invited to submit for so my coursework can operate as preparatory work that that bigger quilt too. 

This is a quick ( less than four hours in total) twelve inch test quilt I made. It is sloppy in places because I wanted it to be like a sketchbook page to start me off and i was testing out working with ink and neolcolour crayons for the first time. It was very useful to have a springing off point and I learned that the brand of supposedly water resistant marker I used was not anything of the sort!

Really, it doesn’t matter what I pick for this course. I just have to pick something to work with to learn the lessons Lisa has to give. There is certainly a freeing feeling already. I have tons of other ideas but they are laid to sleep quietly for a while. Eight weeks seems like a time I can manage to keep them sedated and I don’t resent being without their company for that time. Although I do feel a bit of fear now I have told you my plans in case I cannot follow through.

I cannot imagine that I will do portraits of the same woman for more than a few months but I can see that portraits of women in general could keep me going for a very long time, especially as I intend to use this course to focus on the backgrounds. The idea of a series is that somethings stay constant ( for me, the person, the method of drawing her, the size of the quilt) and others change – in this case, the background, which I will change to tell different aspects of her story. That seems to be a formula with enough structure to enable me to find my visual language ( to steal a phrase from Commited to Cloth) and broad enough to keep me intererested. It is of course a natural development from my fledgling African Ladies. ( If one’s geography is bad enough to consider Persia as being in Africa!)

And now I have publically declared my intention it so I hope you will keep me accountable in not wandering down side roads! And will hold my hand when I get scared that I am wasting time or doing bad work or being a silly pretentious artist-wannabe or when any other number of fears arise.

So, now I have worked out what I am doing, I had better go and actually do it!

Write soon and tell me what you are up to,

Love, Helen.

* Its an analogy. I would never hunt a Polar bear. They are too cute and I indentify too much with their big bottoms.


Brebda said...

Wow! You have just given me a comprehensive artist statement for my floor talk when I cover your work in Beneath the Southern Sky. It really does unite all those threads.

Kristin L said...

I think I need you to come pick my brain and make a flow chart of my motivations too! I want my statement to sound as ambitious as yours. :-)