Saturday, 30 June 2012

sycamore is for curiosity

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) grows like a weed in London.  You’ll find it sprouting all over the city alongside fences, railings and buildings. Any bit of unattended ground is an ideal home for this opportunistic plant and with all the rain we’ve had in recent weeks, what were small shoots a while back now amount to small woodland areas.  This is the case near my studio, where I’ve gone out to collect some equipped with a saw and pair of loppers. Who am I to turn down free materials?

The aim was to strip the bark off the wood collected and use it for plaiting and weaving.  So far I’ve used every part of the tree but the leaves, so these trees haven’t been felled in vain. If I was making garments, this approach would be equivalent to zero waste pattern cutting. All this has led to really interesting experimentation.  I’ve assembled, plaited, coiled and twined the leaf stalks to make nest like constructions and baskets.  I’ve bent, split and joined freshly stripped branches to make bowl and plate shaped recipients.  I’ll be working with the leaves next, so keep your eyes peeled on this coming week’s dailymades. I was only looking at an old catalogue of Andy Goldsworthy the other day. Such inspiration… If anyone knows how to work with leaves, he does!

stripped and bent sycamore

sycamore leaf stalks and branches

I’ve yet to find out what will come of all this work I’ve done: the development of new products, fresh ideas and approaches for making sculptures, new activities to be practiced in future collaborative projects… It’s too early to say, but I’ve realised there is something fundamental about working with trees.  It has something to do about connection you’re making with the environment. Phil Macnaghten writes eloquently in his short essay on trees in Patterned Ground: Entanglements of Nature and Culture, about their ‘dynamic temporality’, their ‘contribution to a sense of place’, and their relationship with people being historically ‘intimate and productive, reflected in customs of hunting, foraging, burning, beekeeping, building, grazing, and so on…’.  He also says trees ‘exhibit a rhythmic pattern of persistence and change, from the swaying, bending and twisting of branches, to the growth of leaves and ripening of fruit, to eventual death and decay.  Trees embody an intergenerational model of time’.  It is possibly this idea of time that has drawn me in, something that is of course pertinent to making, and weaving in particular.

sycamore leaf stalks

plaited and coiled sycamore leaf stalks

sycamore seeds, leaf stalks and bindweed

Foraging for sycamore has left me wanting to know much more than simply weaving with bark, so it is no surprise to find out that the symbolic meaning of sycamore is curiosity.

sycamore bark

Monday, 25 June 2012

sugar is forever

Love, Hope, Melancholy and Deceit  (rose, almond flowers, geranium, anemone)
mixed emotion series 2005

glass, royal icing, petal paste, edible colouring

Followers of dailymades might  have spotted the highly decorative cake topper (pictured at bottom of this post) dropped in amongst other creations made out hedgerow materials in recent days. Somewhat incongrous I know. How this came about was being asked to make a wedding cake for a friend of mine who knows of my sugar sculptures and installations. My interest in sugarcraft dates back a while, and oddly enough, came out of my interest weaving and needlecraft. The Tate Gallery asked me in 2005 to lead a lace making family workshop, linked to a re-hang of Tudor portraits paintings in their galleries  featuring elaborate lace fabrics. Thinking I couldn’t sustain the attention of my young participants with stitching (experience has taught me otherwise since), I suggested piping with icing instead to create lace patterns. The project was a great success with some 300 cakes decorated in a couple of hours. I’m sure the prospect of eating your creations at the end of the workshop contributed to this high level of production.

Sweet Nothings: an intimate history of cake decorating
Pump house Gallery, London, 2005

The project did whet my appetite (quite literally) and prompted me to find out more about using sugar as a material to work with. I took up a residency at the Pump House Gallery during the show Ceremony, co-curated by Freddie Robins. I presented the project Sweet Nothings: an intimate history of cake decorating where I invited visitors to decorate a cake according to a theme of their own choosing. I also got professionals in the field to lead various classes throughout the project. This is as close I got to any formal training in cake decorating.

Sweet Nothings led me then to look at the Victorian language of flowers, and produce a number of sculptures using sugar and glass. Red roses symbolise passion and love, yellow ones decreasing love and jealousy, while anemones means deceit to illustrate but a few.  I played around with positive and negative symbolic meanings, and created sugar flowers displayed under cut glass, its refraction interfering with identifying these and reading their meaning. I also liked the way the bitter sweet narratives also said something about sugar’s unusual dual characteristic of being both a preserving agent as well as a catalyst for decay.

Love, Hope, Melancholy and Deceit  (rose, almond flowers, geranium, anemone)
mixed emotion series 2005

glass, royal icing, petal paste, edible colouring
Mirror Mirror 2006
glass, royal icing, petal paste, edible colouring
Pot Pourri 2006
glass, royal icing, petal paste, edible colouring

I refrained of course from any such negativity when making the cake for my friend, sending out a positive message for the occasion with cornflowers for growth and riches, daisies for innocence, and ivy for truthfulness and eternity. I later added a rose to the topper seen below, for love.

cake topper, 2012

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

one giant leap

‘A day not danced is a day not lived’. Friedrich Nietzsche apparently…  And the reverse might be true as well, as it all seems to be about dance at the moment! I am currently rehearsing for Matthias Sperling’s Walking Piece at Siobhan Davies Studios, seeing far too many Pina Bausch performances (part of the World Cities season at the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells in London), have recently designed sets and props for a dance performance for East London Dance, and am of course keeping up with weaving my dailymades, which is not so far removed from dancing, with my hands at least (see previous posts on this blog).

A couple of weekends ago I worked on One Giant Leap, a dance theatre piece by Cheryl McChesney Jones and produced by East London Dance for Big Dance East (part of Big Dance 2012) in Barking Abbey Ruins.  The piece was inspired by leaps and giant strides made every four years and thinking of these, I designed and installed a number of balloon arches framing the performing area and 50+ dancers involved in the piece.  Modelling balloons were used to emphasize the celebratory nature of the event and the themes explored by the dancers, which had a lot to do with aspirations and embracing the future.

The idea was to build all the set and props on site, on the day of the performance.  This was made possible by the involvement of local scouts groups who kindly donated their time to do this. I planned two workshops with them, where we 'rehearsed' how to work with the balloons.  We then ‘performed’ the making of the set a few hours ahead of the dance itself.  Many thanks to Scott, Don, Curtis, Barry and their friends for being the fantastic balloon modellers they were. I also got the dancers to make their own accessories out of modelling balloons. 

Below are a few shots of the performance...

Sunday, 3 June 2012

200 dailymades in 200 days in 200 ways

top ten most popular post #1: paper streamers

Dailymades was 200 days old yesterday! Congratulations to me. I never thought I’d be able to keep up with making and updating the blog daily, but I have, almost. There have been some days when I have failed to do this on time (at least the updating part of it) but I’m getting better at it, and gaining more from producing these objects as time goes on. The self imposed constraints are that I only use what I have at hand, never purchase anything specifically for the making, and never plan ahead, but work directly with the material to produce the work. This way of working has been a liberation.

Why do it? My aim was to keep up with my practice in a more concerted way by creating a space for logging and reflecting on all that I make. We all live fragmented lives to varying degrees, and it is often hard to make time for what matters most. Right now I’m writing assessments for my university students, creating sets and costumes for One Giant Leap, a performance produced by East London Dance and choreographed by Cheryl McChesney Jones for Big Dance 2012, planning a series of activities for Little Boxes of Memories, a project with Entelechy Arts, and am toiling to grow vegetables and materials to work with at the allotment at the Heygate. There are other commitments too, but you get the picture...

Dailymades as a spontaneous if not 'automatic' way of working has had me produce 200 objects so far, that now stand as an insightful record of my ongoing interests in making and the visual arts. It has allowed me to integrate creative ideas related to the various projects I am working on at any one time, and confirmed my interest in weaving to be of central importance in my practice(no surprises there) whether I model with balloons, plait with straws or pipe with royal icing. Making the Dailymades, I surprise myself everyday, and the meaning of what is produced will reveal itself over time, so I’m definitely committed to another 200 days if not more.

Above and below are the top ten most popular posts on the site. They may not be my all time favourites, but that’s the benefit of going public with such a project…

top ten most popular post #2: modelling balloons

top ten most popular post #3: paper clips

top ten most popular post #4: willow bark

top ten most popular post #5: fishing line

top ten most popular post #6: berry pins on wheel

top ten most popular post #7: palm tree fronds

top ten most popular post #8: connector blocks and electric cable

top ten most popular post #9: chevron border airmail envelope

top ten most popular post #10: hazel sticks and grass