Thursday, 29 September 2011

Interview by Olisa Corcoran (cocoaeyesthestitcher) Part One

Olisa Corcoran(cocoaeyesthestitcher on Blogger and cocoaeyes on Flickr) asked me to do a mini interview for her new series on young artists. I was only too happy to oblige! Here's Part One:

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman: A New Feature

Happy discoveries are made in the online stitching community!

Drink Me In

I stumbled across the work of a young British artist named Kate Elisabeth Rolison in the Phat Quarter group pool on flickr. I was immediately entranced with the stitching and energy of this piece and, like any curious stitcher, followed the links to her blog, poesie grenadine, where she documents her work embroidering modern love poetry onto vintage fabrics.

The work is beautiful and inventive. I just adore the way her drawing and stitching look like the caffeinated images one might concoct in a Viennese coffee den.

Dishwater Eyes

What follows is Part One of a mini-interview with Rolison. I was very curious about her life and her East London routes… especially how the two interact to create a talented young textile artist. How does a woman who is so comparatively young, living in the U.K. create pieces that so resonate with me?

I started the interview with finding out more about her geographic source, education and her artistic communities, both online and in “meat space.”

A portrait of the artist as a tortured artist

Part Two will focus on her current work with poesie grenadine and other projects.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Walthamstow (also known as "The Stow" or "E17"), a literal end-of-the-line town in North East London, on the end of London Underground's Victoria Line. It's an incredibly culturally diverse place, with everything from 99p and fried chicken shops to a gallery dedicated to the arts and crafts pioneer William Morris and swanky restaurants. It was also the scene of some of the recent London riots, and consequently has a bit of a reputation! My relationship with Walthamstow has changed over the years from “love-to-hate” to a true appreciation of its diversity and vibrancy, particularly since I've become aware of its thriving art scene.

The Stow
Walthamstow is home during the holidays, and also for the next three months as I complete a project independently of university. I hope to move back after graduating to attend the Art Writing MA at Goldsmiths College. I just hope I have enough experience!

Tell us a little about how you started stitching?
When I was 15 – 16, I studied GCSE Textiles at school and designed a dress based on the Amazon rainforest. I hand printed the bodice with a fern pattern, and then hand-embroidered unfurling designs onto the ferns. This first attempt was very amateurish and I took a long hiatus before picking up a needle again! Then, last summer, whilst I was recovering from an illness, my father bought me some very simple hand puppet kits to make for my little cousins. Sewing the simple tiger together was incredibly therapeutic, and soon I was hooked. I experimented with cross stitch and (again, very amateurish) hand
embroidery.

What are you studying in school?
The official title of my degree is "Writing (Contemporary Practises)"; the course as a whole is known as "Performance Writing". In my first year I was based at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, an internationally renowned, avant guard arts and performing arts school. Last year the college relocated to University College Falmouth in Cornwall, due to financial difficulties (however, Falmouth is acclaimed in its own right). My class is tiny; there are only ten of us!

Performance Writing doesn't necessarily refer to performance, per se, but to the fact that the act of writing itself is a performance. This can mean different things for different artists, but my practice mostly focuses on sound art and embroidery.

The Cure for Love

Studying Performance Writing has allowed me to push the medium of writing as far as it can go, and to blur the boundaries between writing and other arts.

I’ve noticed a lot of photos on your blog of you stitching with other artists. Tell us a little about your arts community? Are there any online communities that you’re involved in relating to your creativity?

The arts community in Walthamstow is very much alive and kicking (some would say surprisingly!) We are the home of the East London Craft Guerilla (http://eastlondoncraftguerrilla.blogspot.com/), who put on a monthly craft night, which I attend, as well as the E17 Designers (http://www.e17designers.co.uk/).


I've become more aware of Walthamstow's arts scene since exhibiting in the E17 Art Trail (http://www.e17arttrail.co.uk/). Going around the trail I met many other enthusiastic and inspiring artists. The trail even brought me my first commission!

Rolison's first commission

The online embroidery community, on Blogger, on flickr, and on the needlework blog MrXStitch has been incredibly supportive of my journey in sewing. It's encouraging to see such a thriving contemporary embroidery community.
 
 
Rolison in front of exhibition space


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Featured on Mr X Stitch

My Brief Encounter embroidered handkerchief has been featured on the Mr X Stitch contemporary embroidery and needlecraft blog by the lovely and talented Bridget Franckowiak, also known as Beefranck.
 Cheers Beefranck!




Friday, 23 September 2011

Kiss the Book




This is the result of my first collaboration with Joe Donohoe; we recorded my monologue/prose poem, and Joe then added atmospheric sounds of East London at night, together with an out-of-tune chord harp. The embroidery in the video illustrates one of the lines from the monologue.







The embroidery is currently on show at the Pharmacy of Stories as part of the Here Is My Heart exhibition. 

The title Kiss the Book is a reference to a line spoken by Stefano the drunken butler in Shakespeare's The Tempest. The "book" of the line is in fact a bottle of alcohol.

The text of Kiss the Book imagines a romance between two self-styled tortured artists:


Kiss the Book

In later days the latter day lady lit her Marlboro Light and skipped lightly to the front of a 10,000 strong queue waiting on cheap thrills not one of us could afford (yes, we sold our very souls for the promise of a Parker pen and possible publication).

The background noise of barely mentioned sexual tension’s got me jumpy, buzzing in my ears like a pneumatic drill setting my teeth on edge.

So bring your lips to the battle and I’ll bring a bottle (the truth is I haven’t been kissed in a while), and we’ll wear our best black boot polish berets atop dreaming (a)spire heads. Blacker-toothed and blue-lipped, let’s riddle ourselves with writer’s cliches like other teens catch sexual diseases.

But don’t sweat it babe, bard, it’s quite legit, I carry a Poetic License for use in the event of romantic circumstances like these. If you amuse me, I’ll have you with my morning museli. You’ll briefly be my brightest burning muse. And valorously, vaingloriously, we’ll fur our teeth over with velour, spooning with a desperate fervour, for revolution, for a resolution to our private privileged hells.

Our teeth are furred over like cheap velour by cheaper wine whilst we worry the kerb, licking biro-bled blue-black lips, cursing the orange sky, cultivating Scrooge sentiments, stoppering our hearts before a drop is spilt. Dry ice breath puncturing the air, punctuating our sentences with commas, a brief breather between my romantic comas.

You and I might be the last remaining sufferers of Celia Johnson Syndrome, forsaking feelings for public decency, drinking to loosen stiff upper lips, awakening to find starched white surgical ruffs buttoned back up beyond the collar. Still, we are still so young and lost, on booze, lust, wanderlust. Wilted English roses grown pallid and wan, wandering moors, moaning “Willoughby, Willoughby” at thin air for hours.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Audio Obscura


Last night I went to St Pancras station to experience Artangel's Audio Obscura. This sound work occurs between Marks and Spencer and Le Pain Quotidien in the station's concourse, but audience members/participants are free to wander the extent of the station whilst listening to the piece on headphones.

Billed as "an aural equivalent to the camera obscura", the piece is by poet and novelist Lavinia Greenlaw, and is comprised of a number of internal monologues interspersed with everyday environmental sounds of St Pancras itself; announcements, heels clicking on the floor, and perhaps the most interesting aspect of the sound piece, the amplified sound of the listener's footsteps.

A friend and I agreed that there was a possible lack of balance in the piece due to the negative emotional quality of many of the monologues; there was a lot of frustrated swearing in them, and a lot of tears! We also decided that the piece at times made us feel invasive and voyeuristic, as we began to match the monologues with random passersby in the station. In fact, despite feeling voyeuristic, we felt the best way to experience the piece was to sit and observe passersby whilst listening to what could be their "inner thoughts".

Audio Obscura reminded me of Beckett, in particular his one-act play Not I, due to both pieces consisting of very intense, stream-of-consciousness monologues meditating on death and punishment.




I found the experience of the sound work disorientating due to its emotional intensity. In subject matter it was very different to my own sound collaborations with Joe, but the use of atmospheric background noises is something which I will consider.

Drink Me In





A meditation on the similarity between being in love and being drunk.

Text reads:

Drink me in
Do I give you that warm fuzzy feeling?
Let me embrace you,
Shower you with love,
Bathe you in it,
To have and to hold,
Lover


Friday, 16 September 2011

"Here Is My Heart" at the Pharmacy of Stories

Tonight I went along to the Here Is My Heart private view at the Pharmacy of Stories gallery in London Fields, Hackney. The Pharmacy of Stories describes itself as "a little storytelling Laboratory and gallery where we explore links between narrative and healing and how performance, installation and the art of making books can be combined."

Arriving at the gallery I had no idea what to expect of the evening but was very pleasantly surprised. As I arrived at the gallery a musician was playing a miniature keyboard and singing a song about Argentinian cows producing milk that is good for your heart! A "triage nurse" greeted me with a friendly "What's your emergency?" I told her that I had a heart to donate, and was immediately categorised as a high priority case. This meant that I could jump to the front of the queue for my "consultation".

The triage nurse then asked me to fill out a form on the condition of my heart;


and write a message in a bottle on my emotional state. Armed with bottle and form I approached the first curtain at the A&E, behind which was a "Flaminian accorn cardio therapist" (no, I have no idea what that means either... apparently the Via Flaminia was an ancient Roman road). The therapist asked me and the two other "patients" to do a number of exercises for her in order for her to assess our hearts' health. She asked us to copy her movements and tell her what we felt as we copied them. I felt excitable and anticipatory. Next, in an effort to "detox bottled up feelings" we began a collaborative dance and then threw our messages in bottles into a wishing well and made a wish.

After detoxing, I made my way to the X-Ray room.


Firstly, the radiologists asked me to drink some "heart contrast dye" (a shot!), as the previous x-ray of my heart was "cloudy" and they wanted to make sure that this time it showed up. They then ushered me into the X-Ray Centre and blindfolded me so that the radiation from the machine wouldn't blind me! Finally they encouraged me to press the "x-ray chalk" to the film and see how the x-ray of my heart turned out.


(I tried to write that my heart was "hopeful", but being blindfolded and attempting to write back-to-front conspired against me!)

(I promise it says "hopeful"!)

The radiologists compared the x-ray of my heart with my previous x-ray and concluded that my heart was "misplaced" (and possibly on the opposite side of my chest!)



The final stop on my trip to the A&E was to be to the "Marine Gastropod Molluscs" and "Cardio Memory Screenings" Departments. At this point, however, I met a "heart psychic", aka Tina, the night's organiser, donated my heart to the exhibition, and discussed a possible collaboration.


Tina the "heart psychic"

All in all, a very interesting, off-the-wall (but of course I'm used to that sort of thing, being a product of Dartington!)and relevant evening, and one which will, fingers crossed, bear fruit.

Stitch Therapy's My Heart Sings Like A Caged Bird, the piece which first introduced me to the Pharmacy of Stories and Here Is My Heart. Cheers Stitch Therapy!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Subversive Stitchery

Contemporary needlework comes in many guises; from the twee to the political via the subversive and disturbing. Mr X Stitch, "the number one contemporary embroidery and needlecraft blog" showcases the breadth of these (including my own embroidery). Mr X Stitch himself, the blog's founder, is Jamie Chalmers, a self-styled "manbroiderer" who gets a mention in Rozsika Parker's book The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine.

Recently, subversive craft has really come into its own; taking the form of everything from sewn swear words to "craftivist" protest banners to knitted and crocheted graffiti.

Crystal Gregory's Invasive Crochet
Ami Grinsted, a recent graduate from Falmouth's Contemporary Crafts course, created an embroidered series on the Egyptian Revolution. Ami cross stitches on wilfully difficult surfaces; wood (which she drills holes into to sew through) and wire mesh. As a review of her work on Mr X Stitch says, "Ami chooses to increase the tension (of her sewn subject) by stitching through hard surfaces".



Embroidering a protest placard seems to my mind to be a reference to the old embroidered trade union and suffrage banners. Suffrage banners are a perfect early example of the "woman's work" of embroidery being employed for a subversive cause.



In the 1970s needlework was reclaimed by the Feminist Movement, for example by the fine artist Kate Walker. In The Subversive Stitch, Walker is quoted as saying that she has "never worried that embroidery's association with femininity, sweetness, passivity and obedience may subvert my work's feminist intention. Femininity and sweetness are part of women's strength. Passitivity and obedience, moreover, are the very opposite of the qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in needlework. What's required are physical and mental skills, fine aesthetic judgement in colour, texture and composition; patience during long training; and assertive individuality of design (and consequent disobedience of aesthetic convention). Quiet strength need not be mistaken for useless vulnerability."

My work (though possibly in a slightly more subtle way!) follows in the traditions of Julie Jackson's Subversive Cross Stitch.

A Subversive Cross Stitch pattern

My Don't be an art school arsehole embroidery

Though I choose to embroider on old linens, the sentiments I stitch upon them are new; this results in a fusion of past and present, acknowledging embroidery's lineage whilst keeping it contemporary. Like many other contemporary embroiderers, I take what could be a twee and cloying pattern and add a healthy dose of irony, with tongue in cheek punning and verse. In other pieces I embroider a line from one of my poems on love in the modern urban environment. I embroider on linens passed down to me by my grandmother, in turn handed down to her by my great grandmother. In this way I acknowledge embroidery's past as "woman's work" whilst simultaneously subverting it.

My work may not be overtly feminist (aside from the fact that it subverts what is traditionally thought of as "women's work"), but it is often subversive, sending up artist clichés in a humorous and self-deprecating manner.

One of my embroideries exploring and poking fun at the "tortured artist/writer" cliché
In The Subversive Stitch, Rozsika Parker explains how at one time embroidery was thought of as "almost a secondary female sexual characteristic". Today, "manbroiderers" like Jamie Chalmers and Richard Saja challenge that assertion.

Richard Saja's work
My embroidery is informed by that of my peers, particularly those, such as Iviva Olenick and Joetta Maue, who explore themes of love. I am incredibly grateful to the always supportive online embroidery community on mrxstitch.com, Flickr, and here on Blogger. They continue to inspire and encourage me.

Exhibition Venues/Here Is My Heart

Today I visited two possible venues in which to exhibit The Cure for Love; the 491 Gallery on Grove Green Road in Leytonstone,and The Mill in Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow.

The 491 Gallery was once a factory but is now an art squat; a home for squatters (or not technically squatters, as they pay a peppercorn rent to the building's owners, Transport for London) and an exhibition space for artists, including students from Central Saint Martins.


The Mill is a slightly different organisation (though I suppose both venues operate on similar community-based principals). Orginally the building that houses The Mill was Coppermill Lane Library. This was closed by the council and the plan was to turn it into a drug rehabilitation centre. However, local campaining meant that it eventually became what it is today; a community centre for local people.

Tomorrow I will be travelling to the Pharmacy of Stories gallery in Hackney, to participate in their show Here Is My Heart, in which hearts are given and recieved in "heart transplants"; very fitting for The Cure for Love!


This is the heart I will be taking along.

I find it interesting that it was originally the liver that was the symbol of love, and believed to be the seat of the passions in the body. The heart itself was believed to be the seat of the mind, and thus is (still) poetically linked to the soul.

Commission Part II


The finished piece.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Commission

A bit of a deviation from  The Cure for Love tonight; today I completed my first commission for one of the visitors to my exhibition in the E17 Art Trail.


The piece is for a French friend of the client, hence the French national motto of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" and the colours of the French flag.

It's incredibly exciting to be sewing for someone, let alone getting paid for it. I just hope she's happy with the outcome, I'm not sure about the black outline on the red and blue... what do you think?

(Have just realised there should be an extra accent on the first "e" on égalité... will have to add that in the morning!)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Friday, 9 September 2011

Hundred Denier Heart



Another complete poem, this time in cross stitch.

And Then We Came to the End

Alas, today was the last day of my exhibition in the E17 Art Trail. It's been a great experience and I'll definitely be doing it again next year. I've had some lovely feedback, it's brought me my first commission, and it was the perfect excuse for a tea party.


Final feedback:

"Lovely work - hours of work, wish I had the time. Make the most of it, good luck in your degree."

"I love your subversive stitchery. Brilliant. Could I commission something?"

"Made me laugh - and so well executed too (as all artists should be!)"

"Very glad we made it to your venue. Great idea for a body of work."

"Lovely idea. Where are all the snippets from? I'll be racking my brains trying to work them out tonight. Well executed."

"Really impressive and thought provoking (for me anyway)."

"It was amazing. I love the "stopper your heart" stitching. I think you are really talented and the WI are missing out on your talents."

"I love the details of the bottles and am amazed at the accuracy of the human heart stitching! I want one!"

Jen Bervin

On the more conceptual (rather than figurative) side of embroidery, my CEP tutor has just introduced me to the work of Jen Bervin.

Bervin uses needle and thread to "map"; mapping the punctuation and markings in manuscripts of Emily Dickinson's poetry in The Dickinson Fascicles, mapping the Mississippi in a scale model composed of hand-sewn silver sequins.

The Dickinson Composites, Granary Books, 2010
Unbound pages and sewn samples from the Dickinson Fascicles


The Composite Marks of Fascicles 40, 16, 38, and 34. Sewn cotton batting backed with muslin. Each quilt is 6 ft high by 8 ft wide.
The River (Mississippi Meander Belt). Hand sewn sequins on tyvek, mull, and paper. 230 curvilinear ft, 2010

Bervin seamlessly blends writing and embroidery, using embroidery to embellish and alter the poetry of John Van Dyke with "atmospheric fields of pale blue zigzag stitching to construct a poem “narrated by the air” — “so clear that one can see the breaks.”


Page detail, The Desert, Granary Books, 2008

The Desert follows in the tradition of altered books, the most famous of which is Tom Phillip's A Humument. However, unlike most altered books, where the unwanted text is simply censored or obliterated, the obscured text in The Desert can still be made out through the machine-stitched blue thread. This offers the viewer several different readings.