Friday 18 December 2009

Earth: Art of a changing world

This exhibition at the Royal Academy brought together 35 artists to give a cultural response to the way that human activity is affecting the natural balance and physical cycles of the earth. I particularly enjoyed seeing several works I had read about but not seen before. These included Mona Hatoum’s Hot spot, Antony Gormley’s Amazonian Field and Cornelia Parker’s Heart of darkness. Hot spot is a stainless steel cage in the shape of a globe with the continents outlines in red neon lighting. Amazonian field consists of hundreds of clay figures packed into a room all looking towards the viewer. Heart of darkness is a hanging of shattered charcoal, the remains of a forest fire in Florida. I like Cornelia Parker’s work but this was so similar to Mass (Colder, Darker matter), which comprises charcoal retrieved from a church struck by lightning, that I felt I’d seen it before.

I thought Spencer Finch’s Sunlight in an empty room (passing cloud for Emily Dickinson), a large blue cloud made out of wrapped cellophane, was very effective. Darren Almond’s Tide, made up of 567 wall clocks telling the current time, was a clever way of making you notice the passing of time as you waited for the clocks to all move to the next minute. Yao Lu’s Spring city was a clever photograph of mounds of rubbish manipulated to look like an ancient Chinese painting. It made you look carefully and appreciate the way the Chinese landscape is being altered by pollution. Tracey Moffatt’s Doomed was a video collage of disaster scenes from films that were spliced together so well they appeared to tell a new story of their own.

Sunday 6 December 2009

Three by one symposium

This short symposium was linked to the current exhibition curated by Alison Britton in the Craft Study Centre. She selected artworks from three collections for the current exhibition and discussed her rationale for choosing the items and how they were displayed. I found the talk by Sandra Alfoldy, comparing present day DIY craftspeople with studio craft practitioners, interesting and want to follow up her references to Dirt Palace and Sublime Stitching. Mark Bills curator of Watts gallery spoke to us about the gallery and its founding and Glenn Adamson summed up the proceedings.

In his conclusion, Glenn Adamson contrasted the views of history that had been presented as constraining or as a cushion or comfort area from which to move on. He highlighted the stories of craft, its individuality, temporality, repetitiveness and its relaxing nature. In the panel discussion, it was pointed out that textiles can be taken into the domestic environment but it may be more difficult for other crafts to operate in this DIY fashion. Glenn also said that in any ways it would be easier to make a case for collecting DIY crafts than fine art because that is the new wave.

Art & Design National Postgraduate Training Day

This was a day of talks, workshops and networking opportunities for art and design PhD students at the British Library to introduce the research materials available at the Library.

After a general introduction to the Library and its collections we attended two curator sessions from a choice of eight. The collections are vast and include art, music, British newspapers from 1600 to 1900, a sound archive, catalogues from auction sales, websites and patents and various guides to setting up your own business.

The first curator session I chose was Graphic Art because it sounded as if it would cover a wide range of material. We were shown some interesting antique books and paintings including an illustrated collection of the fortifications in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, drawings and etchings of Scotland and Surrey, and etchings of the colleges in Oxford. The curator explained that you should start your search in the integrated catalogue and make it as wide as possible. She guided us through several searches which emphasised how complicated the process of finding what you want can be.

The second curator session I attended was about the Oral History collection. I found this more relevant and interesting probably because we started by saying what we were all researching which gave the curator an idea of what we were interested in. My net curtain research appealed to him and he used that as a search example which was very useful for me. Several people were interested in conducting interviews as part of their research so they were given some tips and also told that the BL runs a series of workshops to help you get started. Most of the recordings have been collected since the second world war but the people being interviewed are all asked about their memories of their parents and grandparents so in that way the collection also deals with an earlier period. If the recording you want is not available for listening you have to order it which takes about 2 weeks. Many also have transcripts. The sound archive is also worth searching

Sunday 1 November 2009

Home sweet home

This excellent exhibition at the Hub Gallery, Sleaford, brings together work from recent UK graduates who are inquiring into the subject of domesticity with a twist, which mirrors my own work on the uncanny and subverting the domestic. I thought Emily Winning’s boxed sets of do it yourself ceramic tea sets were a witty addition to the patched up cups and saucers available in many galleries. Rebecca Fairman’s Cold comfort was a clever twist on the child’s quilt, made entirely of ceramic blocks impressed with lace but looking uncannily like a soft, comforting quilt. Charlotte Agius’ mop and brush made of hair were deliciously unsettling and her chair sewn together with hair reminded me of Doris Salcedo. The star of the show was Beatrice Baumgartner’s ‘La maison oubliee’, a home made dolls house in which ‘traces of human presence had been consumed by nature’s incessant force’. Beside the house a DVD of stop frame animation showed how the disintegration of the house had occurred, it lasted for 9 minutes, but held me and many other visitors spellbound from start to finish.

Secret second life by Clare Knox

Clare Knox is the winner of the annual award by the Hub Gallery, Sleaford, to a recent graduate at Manchester Metropolitan University. She makes lace like panels and jewellery by drawing with a glue gun. I liked her panels, which were hung at the windows on the Museum’s main staircase, but was less interested in the jewellery which seemed quite crude in close up, I would have preferred something finer and more detailed.

Venice Biennale: Mexican exhibition

Teresa Margolles’ work entitled ‘What else could we talk about?’ was in a beautiful palazzo behind Saint Mark’s Square. Her work deals with the recent upsurge of violence in Mexico. She works with collaborators to find the scenes of violent crimes, where they mop up blood or some of the mud from a scene of execution. From these remains she produces hangings drenched in blood or mud. In this intervention, those containing mud were kept moist with a fine spray and the mud collected from them was used to mop the floors of this ancient palazzo. I found the hangings rather ghoulish and macabre and it felt as if these people and their blood were being exploited. I did not understand why the blood and mud were being washed into the fabric of the palazzo which had no connection with the original site, but I did find the mop and bucket in the empty room intriguing and felt that was a more subtle way of transmitting the message. However, some of those who saw it with me were moved by the hangings, which I am sure was the intention of the artist.

Saturday 31 October 2009

Noble and Webster

This piece ‘Two fucking rats’ by Noble and Webster formed part of the Distortion exhibition curated by James Putnam at the Venice Biennale. It was housed in a beautifully crumbling building in the Fondamenta S Ana by a small bridge over a canal and we almost missed it in the rain. I have admired their work in books before but this was the first time I’d seen a piece. I like the way the rubbish is transformed by its shadow and things aren’t quite what they seem. The setting here was perfect in a small side room that could easily have housed rats.

Venice Biennale: Library

This installation by Woojung Chu is inspired in part by Jorge Luis Borges ‘The library of Babel’ and the quotation ‘The universe (which others call the library)’. It depicts the librarian’s relentless search for the source of all universal wisdom. It comprises several desks cabinets and a globe but none of them are what they seem or present knowledge in an easily accessible form. They contain a collection of heads, geometric forms made of wire, lists of words and letters, pulleys and the form of a man crouched in the fetal position. One globe is a maze of interlocking rooms and the other is covered in images of what might be astrological signs. The work suggests that the library is a place of persistent search for elusive, unanswered questions. The whole installation gives a feeling of the uncanny and that what we think we know is all an illusion.

Venice Biennale: Giardini

Tomas Saraceno’s ‘Galaxies forming along filaments like droplets along the strands of a spiders web’ hung in one of the main rooms at the Giardini pavilion. It filled the room and encouraged interaction as people clambered through its filaments and posed for photos through the fibres. I liked its lace-like qualities and the feeling that you could float through it.

Hans-Peter Feldmann’s installation Shadow Play was one of my favourite pieces. I was attracted by its uncanny feel that ‘infused the ordinary with a sense of wonder’. The backlit objects on the turntables moved round forming almost abstract pattern of shifting shadows on the opposite wall; it was a very relaxing experience. The known items on the turntables were transformed and became unknown and slightly uncanny through their shadow images. One of the interesting things was that the tables, lights and objects on the turntables were not hidden and were very messy but you looked past them and concentrated on the shadows.

In the Russian pavilion I admired the work of Anatoly Shuravlev, whose small crystal balls hanging from the ceiling included tiny photos of figures that changes the course of history. I also enjoyed Gosha Ostretsov’s installation entitled ‘Art life of the torments of creation’. It was a small wooden house which interacted with the visitor as they moved round it; hands moved pictures on the wall and a mannequin made marks with a pencil on a desk. It appealed to me because I saw it as a haunted house from a fairground that included na├»ve mechanical movements. However, I later discovered it is a representation of the artist showing that his works will live on after him in a victory over the future.

Venice Biennale: Arsenale

This was the first time I’d been to the Venice Biennale and I was impressed by the amount of art in the exhibition and throughout the city. We managed to see everything in the Arsenale and the Giardini in one day and spent the rest of the time visiting other venues.

This installation by Lygia Pape was the first thing we saw when we entered the Arsenale. It took a while to adjust to the dark, but the lines of threads glowing from the centre of the room gave it an ethereal quality. As you moved around the room and the threads were presented at different angles to the light they appeared and disappeared giving a magical feel to the whole piece. The ambience was slightly upset by the continual flash of cameras as the public took photos of it.

Jorge Otero-Pailos’ ‘Ethics of dust’ was made up of sheets of latex used to clean a wall during the restoration of the Doge’s Palace, during which ‘the translucent material became an index of the site’s past’. From a distance the piece appeared to be a textile and it was only when you read the caption you realised what it was.

Saturday 17 October 2009

Telling tales: fantasy and fear in contemporary design

This conference on 16 October was linked to the current V&A exhibition Telling tales. Gareth Williams, the curator of Telling tales, spoke about his rationale for the exhibition, most of which is also explained in the book that accompanies the show. Jack Zipes explained that fairy tales are metaphors of adaptation to life. I was interested to hear him speak because I have found the ideas in his books interesting. He explained that the study of the unheimlich helps us to understand the Heimlich and the reconstitution of home on a new plane occurs through reading fairy tales. He gave us a short history of fairy tales and explained how they adapt with the times and concluded by saying that fairy tales keep alive the uncanny impulse of striving for home; they are a resistant force in all art forms.

Justin McGuirk, Editor of Icon magazine, told us that decorative and narrative design has been around for most of civilisation it is only recently that Modernism has caused a blip in this sequence. He also suggested that many items have a narrative even if that isn’t their main design feature, while others use decoration with no narrative. Tord Boontje explained how he uses storytelling in his work. He started by showing us a video of his installation at the furniture biennale in Milan, then described how his figleaf wardrobe required an amazing number of people and skills. He then told us about two of his recent projects the ‘witches kitchen’ range and the work he has done based on the lace at the Design Centre, Philadelphia.

I found Claire Pajaczkowska’s talk on the uncanny particularly interesting. She described the paradox of the wardrobe as being safe, desirable and containing but also suffocating, and linked to a fear of immurement and death. It is a transitional space between real and narrative reality. It has the capacity to allow transition. The designer allows forgotten meanings to come through. The object is a transformational space for the maker and the user. She also talked about the child’s psychological development and the concept of the core complex.

Julia Lohmann’s pieces in the exhibition reference the origin of their materials. She shows us that leather sofas are made from cows. She noted that her pieces are democratic you don’t have to own them to experience the message just seeing it will put you off meat. She often links science and art in her work and has worked with the Welcome Trust

Friday 16 October 2009

Artists in residence talks

The three artists in residence in the Farnham, UCA, Textile Department each gave a short talk about their work on 7 October. Rosie James showed us the work based on Minimalism she had done for her MA and then described the commissions she has been working on recently incorporating scanned and embroidered figures. The picture above shows one of Rosie’s pieces in a showcase at Farnham, UCA, she also has a very interesting blog. Rhian Solomon showed us her MA work based on body image incorporating knitted wire and the use of pressure belts on skin. She also showed us more recent work involving skin and laser etching on egg shells. Zoe Acketts showed us the woven textiles she produced for her MA and explained that she is continuing that work to produce a line of furnishing fabrics.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Introducing fairy tales: Meaning and making

This symposium on 3 October at the Sackler Centre was linked to the current V&A exhibition Telling tales. The day opened with Professor Maria Nikolajeva talking about the traditions and history of fairy tales with reference to the links between stories around the globe and explained why fairy tales matter. She told us that myths are true but fairy tales are magic, unreal, entertaining and instructive. Catherine Hyde is an artist who has produced ethereal lustrations for many fairy tales. She spoke to us about her work and a recent commission she had been involved in producing illustrations for The princess’ blankets by Carol Ann Duffy. Emma Laws, based at the V&A, gave an illustrated talk about the collection of illustrated fairy tale books held by the V&A with many beautiful examples from Dulac and Rackham. In the afternoon Margaret Rustin, a child psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic, and Michael Rustin, Professor of Sociology at the University of East London spoke about the relevance of fairy tales and how he genders are portrayed in them. In the final panel discussion the speakers revealed that their favourite fairy tales were the snow queen and baba yaga.

In praise of shadows

This exhibition at the V&A included work by lighting designers who use low energy lighting and alternative energy sources. The title comes from the essay on aesthetics written by Junichiro Tanizaki. Cyclo by Marie-Virginie Berbet was an interesting idea that adapts the lighting conditions depending on the user’s activity levels. Fragile future by Drift was a beautiful combination of dandelion seed heads and small light bulbs that formed a wall decoration. Medusa by Mikko Paakkanen was also fascinating; made of fibre optic rods it expands and contracts, forming first a narrow cone and then a round ball of light. Sonumbra by Loop at the end of the exhibition provided a mesmerising spectacle as light in the electroluminescent wires of the sculpture followed their paths in a delicate lace design. Having helped Loop to learn about lacemaking for their first Sonumbra installation I was impressed at the intricacy of their latest version and how beautifully the light flowed through it.

Telling tales

This exhibition at the V&A showcases design objects that are evocative and symbolic of fairy tales rather than being utilitarian. The exhibition is divided into three areas: the forest glade, the enchanted castle and heaven and hell. The exhibition begins in a forest glade, divided into areas by hangings of printed tree branches. Like the Garden of Eden, it is a place of innocence and enchantment with birdsong and soft lighting but the threat of menace lurks reflecting the woods of many fairy tales. Nestling among the trees are Tord Boontje’s chairs and wardrobe and Jurgen Bey’s Linen cupboard house, a romanticised fairy tale home that links sanctuary and defilement.

The second scene is the interior of the enchanted castle. One half of the room is papered with a large design of eighteenth century wallpaper, the other is mirrored, glittery, brash and luxurious. The innocence of the forest glad has been replaced with worldliness and decadence. The high status goods on show here are subverted through the use of inappropriate scale or materials. It includes Joris Laarman’s heatwave lace radiator and Jeroen Verhoeven’s Cinderella table.

The final area returns us to judgement, the afterlife and memento mori. The walls are plain and most of the objects are viewed through open holes into a room beyond, suggesting that we haven’t yet reached this state but giving us glimpses into it. The exhibits include Wieki Somers’ high tea pot made from a pig’s skull with its water-rat fur tea cosy and the lovers rug by Fredrikson Stallard made up of two conjoined pools of ‘blood’.

This exhibition was cleverly staged and presented, showing how modern designers are producing design-art pieces for the commercial market that have a narrative based on fantasy and the spirit of story telling.

Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters was talking about her book ‘The little stranger’ at the Independent Woodstock Literary Festival 2009 at Blenheim on 20 Sept 2009 in conversation with John Walsh (a columnist at the Independent). She started by explaining that she had been an avid reader of ghost stories as a child. She particularly likes the stories of MR James because they expose the reader obliquely to horror/the supernatural. She likes the Gothic because it is about vulnerable people: children are powerless and experience random acts of cruelty. The irrational element of the Gothic appeals to her.
Poltergeists feature in her book and she explained they are associated with repressed women and teenage girls; repressed sexuality. Talking about the ending of her book she said she hoped the undecidability of the ending gives it extra power. She wrote several different endings and hoped she had chosen the one that was ambiguous but not irritating. Each of the main characters has flaws that make them the possible source of the poltergeist activity. I spoke to her afterwards and got her to sign a copy of the book. I told her about my work on the uncanny and gave her a flyer describing it. She was very helpful and encouraging.


This small Crafts Council exhibition was exhibited in the corridor of the Sackler Centre. The most interesting piece was the bent and spiralling wooded sculpture by Charlie Whinney shown here. He has also used the same technique to decorate the entrance and windows of Harvey Nicholls. Other artists in the exhibition were Ptolemy Mann with her woven colour blocks, Eleanor Long and Gary Breeze.

Mary Butcher open day at the V&A

Mary Butcher is currently one of the artists in residence at the V&A exploring contemporary basketry. She had an open day at her studio in the Sackler Cente on 18 September. It was very interesting to talk to her about the residency and see what is required. It takes up far more time than she envisaged and it can be a lonely experience so you have to network and be proactive. She asks all visitors to contribute to a large wall piece she is making but has not yet had time to make any new work of her own.

Last night forever by Andrea Gregson

This site-specific ‘cabinet of curiosities’ by Andrea Grigson was made following a period of research at the Garden Museum in London. It was a long cabinet on stilts placed in the central space of the Museum with peep holes at eye level along its length for viewers to look into. Andrea had studied Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (1661-1859) and depicted scenes from the gardens along the length of the installation. The glimpses afforded of the grottoes, arches, Italian gardens, ruins and seats was fascinating and more enjoyable because it was observed gradually and incompletely through the peep holes.

Sunday 12 July 2009

Richard Long

I saw Richard Long’s exhibition Heaven and Earth at Tate Britain. Many of the early works were photographs of interventions he had made in the landscape on walks early in his career and the mounting and labelling were quite old fashioned and quaint. I particularly enjoyed the site-specific mud paintings he had made in the gallery, I liked their freedom and the way the paint splattered off the edges. They are large and run the length of the room and their unpredictability is part of their charm. It seems a shame that they are dismantled and disappear at the end of the exhibition but ephemerality is a feature of Richard Long’s work and most of his pieces only exist in photographs. One room was devoted to his geometric-shaped sculptures made from similar stones. These had a majestic monumentality and the viewers were walking round them quietly as if in a church. I thought the outlines of the shapes on the floor should have been removed once the stones were in place as seeing the outlines made them seem too contrived and spoiled their natural effect.

Eva Rothschild

Eva Rothschild’s installation of interlocking triangles down the length of Tate Britain was very effective. The way they rose and fell over the architecture and accommodated it was impressive. They also formed new shapes and viewpoints as you walked down their length and looked through them into other rooms. They seemed to engage people who were enjoying walking in and out and through them.

Walking in my mind

This exhibition at The Hayward comprises ten installations by contemporary artists each depicting a mindscape that the public can enter and walk through. The work of Yayoi Kusama is used to advertise the exhibition and is the most colourful. She has produced an environment covered in red fabric and white polka dots; the floor, ceiling and inflatable structures are all covered in the same fabric with walls of mirrors reflecting the colours back to the viewer. The picture shows some of the inflatable shapes on the roof of the Hayward. Twenty-five trees along the banks of the Thames have also had their trunks wrapped in the same material forming an installation outside the gallery.

I also thought Thomas Hirschhorn’s cave in Cavemanman was a good way of depicting the mind and allowing the viewer to enter into his thoughts. Walking through the ‘cave’ was quite claustrophobic and showed how different parts of life are categorised into different sections yet they all interact and form part of the whole.

I particularly liked the fairy tale-like quality of Chiharu Shiota’s After the dream. In which a dense web of threads intertwining from the ceiling to the walls formed a thicket around a group of overlarge white dresses that seemed to float in a motionless dance in the centre. A narrow tunnel running through the installation allows the viewer to walk through this network and wonder whether the dresses are being protected or ensnared in a deadly web.

Pipilotti Rist’s Sleeping room was another favourite of mine. It consisted of a dark room in which videos of body parts were projected onto two screens and the floor, while small lights circled around, and a disembodied voice repeated a sequence of phrases. The whole experience was very dream-lie and meditative and made you think about your own thoughts and how they interlink.

Saturday 13 June 2009

Rozanne Hawksley

I have long been an admirer of Rozanne Hawksley’s work so even though this exhibition was in Ruthin (a 4 hour drive away) I had to go to it. It was definitely worth the effort. It is a retrospective exhibition, curated by June Hill, and contains most of the works Rozanne is well known for, including ‘Pale Armistice’, the wreath made of white gloves, and her work relating to ‘The seamstress and the sea’.

I found the memorials to her children and husband very moving and the self portraits drawn while she was grieving were brutally honest. We can all empathise with these feelings. Her pieces relating to sailors and the sea obviously drew a great response when she showed ‘The seamstress and the sea’ as can be seen by the display of streamers inscribed by visitors to the exhibition.

I was also fascinated and repelled by reliquaries when visiting Italy, so the way Rozanne uses them in her work, making them beautiful yet horrific is just how I felt about them. Her use of gloves as signifiers of people is also clever as they are such personal items yet easily discarded, as she shows so well in ‘In whose name’ and ‘Continuum’.

A fascinating exhibition and excellent catalogue, I hope it tours to a venue closer to home so I can pay it another visit.

Subversive spaces

This exhibition in the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester aimed to examine the legacy of Surrealism in domestic spaces and the city. It included work from Surrealist artists such as Giorgio de Chirico and Rene Magritte and from contemporary artists who use the surreal in their work. It was divided into two areas: psychic interiors and wandering the city.

Psychic interiors dealt with subversion of the domestic interior and included Tony Oursler’s The most beautiful thing I’ve never seen and Robert Gober’s untitled leg sticking out from the wall. It also introduced me to the work of Francesca Woodman. I was intrigued by her ephemeral photographs of herself disappearing behind wallpaper and a fireplace.

In the section on wandering the city I was attracted by the idea of liminal spaces, passages and boundaries and the way people suspend everyday behaviour during mundane journeys leaving themselves open to new experiences. I was intrigued by the photographs of Marie-Ange Guilleminot walking round the streets at night in a luminous gown producing eerie photographs like illustrations in a gothic novel.

I found this exhibition fascinating but because it was so far to go I had limited time to view it. Since returning home I have read the informative catalogue and found out more about some of the artists who were new to me and I will go and see it again when it is shown at Compton Verney later in the year.

Viking Museum, Oslo

The most impressive exhibits in the Museum were the Viking boats, not just their size but their shallow draught and complete lack of shelter for the occupants. They were displayed very well so you could walk round them and then climb up to viewing areas to see them from above. The Museum also contained various artefacts that had been found during the excavations.

Cultex in Norway

This exhibition, curated by Lesley Millar, brought together three partnerships of textile artists from Norway and Japan. Machiko Agano worked with Anniken Amundsen, Yuka Kawai and Eva Schjolberg collaborated and Kiyonori Shimada and Gabriella Goransson worked together. Each artist exhibited their own work and then produced a collaborative piece with their partner.

Machiko Agano produced free hanging shapes cut from photographs of items related to the everyday life around her in Japan. These were mirror coated on one side which produced distorted reflections and worked very well in combination with Anniken Amundsen’s woven ‘creatures’ when they were displayed together in a greenhouse in the museum grounds. I found this the most successful collaboration because the works enhanced each other.

Yuka Kawai had produced beautifully delicate cylindrical woven pieces that hung from ceiling to floor. These were complemented by the paper cylinders of Eva Schjolberg and her twisted spiral forms in the grounds of the museum.

Kiyonori Shimada had transformed an area of the museum by installing walls of white nylon fabric that rustled as the viewer walked past, completely changing the atmosphere of the room. As you emerged from the tunnel of fabric you were led into a room containing Gabriella Goransson’s net-like basket forms made from linen fibre. The contrast highlighted both works. From the window it was also possible to see Gabriella’s pod forms nestling in a large tree in the museum grounds.

The Norwegian venue was gallery F15 in Moss; the exhibition will also tour to Japan and the UK. The artists and curator have produced a blog of their experience of working together at

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Hussein Chalayan

I saw this exhibition of Hussein Chalayan’s fashions at the Design Museum. Not only are his clothes very attractive and wearable but he concerns himself with interesting ideas such as genetics, displacement and cultural identity so it made a fascinating exhibition. The exhibition also included a number of runway shows which were interesting to see although they should have been broken down into smaller units and shown with the clothes to which they related. His mechanical dresses that morph from one form to another are very clever as is his range of wearable portable architecture.

e-static shadows

The designer Zane Berzina and the architect Jackson Tan have collaborated to produce this installation of electrostatic textiles at the Dana Centre, part of the Science Museum. The project demonstrates how electrostatic energy can be used in conjunction with interactive textiles to form audiovisual patterns. It was a magical experience to enter the darkened room containing the textile and then interact with it using the static energy from your body or using an ebony wand. The audio response to the interactions could be heard as a deep sound through headphones. The scientific work behind the collaboration was described in computer files, which showed how much design work had gone into the installation.

Annette Messager

I saw this Annette Messager retrospective at the Hayward Gallery. I found the pieces in her My trophies were very appealing, they reminded me of illustrations of fables and myths. They were photographs on which she had drawn fantastic images. I also like the Story of dresses which was made up of several dresses encased in glass cases or coffins, like reliquaries. I was also interested in the way she had used gloves and pencils to form witch-like hands that were used to form the shape of a skull. My favourite piece was Casino, a room containing a sea of red silk that was made to billow up and around by a stream of air, to reveal illuminated objects beneath it, as it threatened to engulf the viewer.


Deviants is a Crafts Council exhibition that I had been trying to track down for a while. I eventually got to see it at Worcester Art Gallery. It is a small exhibition and all the objects deviate from what is normally expected from craft objects, so most were not functional. The functional becomes dysfunctional. Some of my personal favourites were Freddie Robbins’ Hand of Good gloves with a miniature glove in the place of each finger of the glove; Richard Slee’s Hello? ceramics; and Henry Pim’s Pot with Ears. The exhibition was accompanied by a handout with comments from The Lonely Piper which I found greatly enhanced my experience.


Desconocida is an exhibition by Lise Bjorne Linnert at The Gallery, UCA Epsom, that responds to the murder and disappearance of many hundreds of women in Juarez a town on the border between the USA and Mexico. The seminar participants were asked to embroider the name of one of the women who has disappeared on a name tape which is then displayed with the other names on a wall in the gallery. Embroidering the names gave a sense of ownership of the problem and made you feel an association with the woman whose name you were embroidering. The exhibition also included rayographs of Lise’s breath as she talks about the problems in Juarez.


This lace festival was held throughout Brugge. The illustration is of the Ghentport at night. Some of my favourite exhibits were Pablo Reinoso’s Chairs and the Miss Blackbirdy fashions in the Gruuthuse Museum. I was interested to see the wire lace fence round the windmill and to find that it is not made in one piece but the pattern is inserted in to the mesh background. I was fascinated with the paper lace by Carlo Mistiaen in the Gezelle museum and would have liked to have spent more time drawing it. I was also interested in the display of Saint’s cards at the Folk Museum many of which included pin pricked patterns similar to bobbin lace patterns. At the Memling Museum I thought that the Serena installation was beautiful and mesmerizing in the way that the patterns kept changing with the different light sources. The Memling’s were also beautiful especially the reliquary depicting Saint Ursula.

Monday 26 January 2009

Curiouser and curiouser

This conference organised by UCA was held at the British Library and involved a series of workshops on innovative teaching methods. I attended three of them, the first was a workshop by Sue Shearer who had been working with a group of blind students at Epsom. We were blindfolded before we entered the room and remained blindfolded throughout the workshop which allowed us to experience some of the problems blind students face. Samples of different fabrics were then handed round for us to feel and we also had to manipulate a piece of paper. It was a thought-provoking experience. I then went to Rebecca Skeels workshop where she described a peer-learning support system she had instituted in the jewellery department at Farnham. The final workshop I attended was Sarah Sutherland’s talk on her experience with non-traditional learners on the MA course at Farnham. As part of this workshop, six of the MA students (including me) had to give short accounts of different technology we use as part of our course. I talked about setting up a blog and how useful it is.

Tate Modern

A trip to Tate Modern was organised for the MA group from Farnham. We all went to the Rothko exhibition, had lunch together, then looked at some of the other galleries. I ha already seen the Rothko exhibition, but it was interesting to see it again and in different company. Looking round the other galleries I was interested in the installation by Victor Grippo ‘Tables of work and reflection’ and the untitled piece by Jannis Kounellis in the Surrealist gallery that includes crows pierced by arrows. I was also very interested in the work of Susan Hiller who trained as an archaeologist and anthropologist and works with collections and produced the installation ‘From the Freud Museum’. This has inspired me to find out more about these three artists.

Designer Crafts at the Mall

This exhibition by the Society of Designer Craftsmen included textiles, jewellery, ceramics, glass, furniture and wood; there seemed to be more textiles than the other categories. The display was good but some of the work seemed little more than samples. My favourite pieces were the witty designs by Caren Garfen, particularly her domestic mugs with sewn messages and teabags containing domestic utensils. Other favourites were Miranda Meilleur’s delicate, lace-like silverware and Alison Levy’s sliced and pierced jewellery. It was useful to be given a catalogue as part of the entrance fee and I thought the sales area where objects could be tried on and purchased was a good idea.

Babylon at the British Museum

This exhibition at the British Museum had the subtitle ‘myth and reality’ and that was the focus of the exhibition. Different areas concentrated on the Hanging Gardens, the Tower of Babel, Nebuchadnezzar, the rivers of Babylon, Daniel and the kings, and Belshazzar’s feast. Many of these subjects were familiar in a vague way but it was interesting to be given more details and place them in a historical context. For example, there was information about the importance of interpreting dreams and Daniel’s role in doing so and about the conquest of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Jews to Babylon. Much of the exhibition was taken up with depictions of these Biblical references from ancient times to the modern day but there were also many artefacts from Babylon including several interesting cylinders of cuneiform script.