Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Big Move

I regret to inform everyone who has followed and supported this blog over the past year that I will shortly be moving to pastures new. I'm in the process of archiving all my Blogger posts over at http://poesiegrenadine.com/, and will be posting over there from now on.

I chose Wordpress to host my domain because I really like the design, it integrates with Significant Seams's blog, anyone can follow my blog (not just people who use that particular blogging platform), and it's a lot less glitchy than Blogger.

That's not to say I haven't loved using this blog. Your feedback and encouragement has always been overwhelmingly brilliant, and it's been wonderful being able to share my artistic endeavours with you.

But I've been slacking with posts a bit, and I think I need a change, a fresh new design, and to approach blogging a bit more "professionally".

Many many thanks for all your kind words, and hope to see a few of you over on Wordpress,

Kate xxx

We are Stitch Witches


Stitch Witches is a collaborative project that has been brewing for a couple of months now.
It all started when I went along to the Girls Get Busy Zine Festival in August. There I met artist and designer Hannah Hill, whose work I had admired online, and Beth Siveyer, founder of Girls Get Busy.
Me on the left, Beth in the middle, and Hannah on the right
Despite my slightly tipsy state, Hannah and I really hit it off, and immediately started considering working together on a project. A few days and emails later, we had begun to outline what Stitch Witches would look and feel like.
We were both intrigued by girl gangs, slightly occult themes, the few remaining taboos of modern society, and, most importantly, stitching!
Both being quite heavily involved in the young feminist art scene, and given where we met, we decided that our medium would be a zine, and thus Stitch Witches was born.
We plan on making the zine available to purchase in November, and will be doing a post-Halloween giveaway to get people in a suitably ghoulish mood!
Hannah has already produced reams of art and design for the zine, and I’ve written some of the text and designed a membership certificate (my next task is to make Stitch Witches rosettes!)
Here are some photographs from one of our (very high level business) planning meetings:

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Running in the Rain

For many people, the thought of spending a Saturday night shivering in the cold and wet is practically nightmarish.

However, last Saturday I was very fortunate to do just that. Well, almost just that; the immersive, site-specific performance I was watching soon made me forget about the rain.

Along with a gaggle (in one case literally) of other umbrella'd spectators, I was in Hackney Wick to witness Run! City! Run!, the culmination of artist, writer, performer, and runner Sebastian Hau-Walker's Olympics-inspired year-long creative project.

I had very little idea of what to expect when I arrived at Hackney Wick. Happily however, I could dimly make out a plastic poncho-clad, slightly ominous figure hanging around under the bridge by the station, with a loudhailer strung around her neck.

She directed me around the corner, and another similarly dressed individual around the next corner, etc., etc., until I reached Sebastian. Atmospheric lighting and loud-hailed, garbled speech and sound accompanied me on my walk. 

This technique, of  leading the audience to the performance, building anticipation, is a tried and tested technique used by Dartington students and graduates. In my opinion, it's a very effective one, particularly in this case. It only added to the forbidden allure of this hidden corner of the city, with its crumbling warehouses, and dingy (possibly distinctly dodgy)alleyways.

At the "amassing point" where I met Sebastian, an atmosphere of excitement and curiosity was palpable. Sebastian fully played up to this, putting me in mind of a circus ringmaster calling "Roll up, roll up!" through his megaphone.

All at once, the performers I had "met" on my wander to the meeting point appeared, sprinting to position. Their movement struck a delicate balance between seeming carefully choreographed and completely improvised; rather like the practise of running in the city itself. It verged from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. The performers/runners (performance runners?) certainly portrayed themselves as heroes, but weren't afraid to send said heroics up.

Indeed, there was a rich vein of humour running (pun not intended) through Run! City! Run! For me (and others) this highlighted the absurdity of the lone, committed, ridiculously  attired runner in the city; where are they running to? Why? Will they keep running in circles? For what purpose?

The performance was consistently playful. It played on the conventions of performance art itself; the need to smuggle the more risky/risqué aspects of your piece past health and safety specifications, the desire to rebel against this, the ignoring of technical difficulties, or, conversely, the incorporation of technical difficulties into the performance.

Throughout, there was a real sense that "the show must go on"; the determination to make a successful performance seemed bigger than the fear of failure. After the performance, Sebastian spoke to me about his wish to make Run! City! Run! a "theatre of mistakes". At times it was difficult to discern whether some of the "mistakes" were in fact "errors", or just cheekily written in to add another level of playfulness. 

This "show must go on" mentality peaked towards the end of the performance, when Sebastian sang "Born Free" unaccompanied by voices or music, standing on a pile of old bricks inside a dark, dank warehouse. This moment was very uplifting and conveyed, at least to me, the joy of solitary running; that sense that you, alone, are master (or mistress) of the city.

In a segment of the performance entitled "Graffcity", the collective contortions of human bodies against a spray-painted city backdrop made me think of cities as people (which, arguably, we often don't in a metropolis) and of people as cities; colonies of body parts, organs and cells working together to make a whole.

Two special mentions should be given to non-human performers in Run! City! Run!; the megaphones, and, to an even greater extent, the rain. The megaphones were used to amplify the performer's voices, to record voice and background noise, and sometimes placed on the ground, leaving sonic traces of distilled breath around the performance site.

It was the rain, however, which really "made" the performance for me; it was as unrelenting as the runners, and highlighted the determination of athletes to train and run, whatever the weather. Another performer, Kirsten, told me afterwards that she was often slightly separate from the group, and constantly running, because she represented "the runner who trains harder and longer than anyone else".

With the rain also came atmosphere; it would be difficult for such a site not to be atmospheric, but the rain made it even more so, bringing an evocative scent of crumbling brick and mildew. Runners, of course, will know the best and quietest routes to make their lonely pilgrimages to, and it was that scent which reminded me of this.

A happy coincidence in the performance was the weather outside being mirrored by Chloe's weather forecast monologue; a moving image of cloud formation was projected on to her poncho as she stood on that same pile of bricks as Sebastian.

As Chloe's forecast grew increasingly apocalyptic, the audience members were ushered into a dimly lit "cellar shelter" area, which it transpired (when the lights went up!) was a bar. And thus we rounded off the evening with a drink, and with congratulations for the performers and for Sebastian, who masterminded it all. The performance was particularly impressive when you consider that two of the cast members only joined the company on the Monday before the final Saturday performance (the other two performances were on Thursday and Friday).

Run! City! Run! was such a rich artwork that I imagine it will take me some time to digest it fully. I only hope that its creator will have the opportunity to continue making such thought-provoking, entertaining immersive works.

All photographs by Marco Beradi

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Delicate Flowers

I received a very interesting surprise "donation" today from my workmate (and crafty renaissance man) Mark; an envelope filled with Kensitas Flowers. These were a sweet treat for smokers of the 1930s; miniature woven silk flowers slipped inside beautifully designed, informative covers, and given away inside packets of Kensitas cigarettes in 1934 and 1935.
When I first opened the envelope I assumed the flowers had been embroidered. However, embroidery this miniscule and delicate would be virtually impossible without a specialist programmable embroidery machine, which obviously did not exist in the 1930s!
With a quick Google search, I discovered that the flowers were in fact woven silk. Unfortunately, a scan doesn't do the flowers justice; they really are exquisite.

It was very fortuituous that Mark passed on these heirlooms to me today; I've recently started work on a new (and slightly ambitious project which they are both giving me ideas for, and can be incorporated into. I recently picked up a crazy hideous/beautiful 70s (?) patchwork table cloth with a doily trim from a stall near work, and when I saw it I knew I had to use it for something.

Each square is about four by four inches, and so I've decided to write a monologue across them in stitch, with occasional illustrations, story board style.

The piece will deal with sickness (and sickliness) and recovery, the subdued gloom of the English national psyche, weeds, delicate flowers, frailty, vulnerability, stereotypes of femininity, romantic literature and poetry, and thorns amongst the roses.

Its title will be Milk Thistle.

Some of the flowers which Mark passed on to me would work particularly well in Milk Thistle, due to the symbolism surrounding them. For example, Montbretia represents instability, which evidently relates to sickness, and Helenium represents tears, which is a theme I will explore through extension of my concept of "melancholyflowers".

Lilies, roses, and pansies are all flowers I want to incorporate into the piece due to their prominence in English literature and idioms.

I'd be very interested to learn more about flower symbolism and the language of flowers.

Finally, apparently, Flax is associated with domestic industry and the textile crafts, which is obviously of particular interest to me as a "conceptual embroidery artist"!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Taxidermy, tears, and powerful concoctions

Last Friday was the private view of A Curious Invitation at The Last Tuesday Society on Mare Street, Hackney. Why do I tell you this? Because one of my embroideries is in the exhibition!

Here is the blurb about the exhibition from The Last Tuesday Society's website:

"In celebration of Picador's publication of Suzette Field's first book, 'A Curious Invitation - The 40 Greatest Parties in Literature', the gallery will be given over to an exhibition that illustrates some of the greatest parties ever known.

Which famous fictional festivity was hosted by Satan? Which imaginary party was to be found hovering above an alien planet? At which event were attendees invited to chop onions and cry together? Which mythological merry-making never ended? At which masquerade were all the guests slaughtered? Which Queen was unable to gain access to her own ball? And at which party did the guests use cough syrup as a mixer?"

My piece was based on one of the chapters which appears in Suzette's book; The Onion Cellar, from Günter Grass's novel The Tin Drum. In this chapter, nightclub patrons gather in a dingy cellar to chop onions and shed tears over their sad stories, all while a jazz band plays in the gloom. My onion skin-dyed handkerchief features a pair of bloodshot eyes crying over an onion, with the legend "The Onion Cutters' Club" stitched in an art nouveau font beneath.

As you might expect, the gallery itself is delightfully decadent, eccentric, and slightly seedy (celebrity poo of questionable authenticity is for sale!)

The interior is stuffed to the rafters with taxidermy and curios. Here I am  enjoying dinner table discussion with a truncated stuffed lion:

We rounded off the evening with a cup of a steaming, potent beverage which seemed to largely consist of gin. Not bad for my first "professional" exhibition!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Stitch Up

On Thursday, my friend and collaborative partner Hannah and I squeezed in a quick visit to the Knitting and Stitching Show around college/internship schedules.

And my, were we glad we did! The amount of inspiration and (mostly glittery) goodies garnered was well worth the trek over to Ally Pally.

When we arrived at the overwhelmingly huge event, we were greeted by the sight of what could be best described as an old-fashioned circus fortune teller tent:

This, we learned, was The Unfinishable, a rather conceptual stitched sculpture. The tent was composed entirely of unfinished pieces of textile craft; half-woven rugs, partially embroidered samplers, even a somewhat-knitted single glove.

Beyond the mishmash patchwork curtains was a womb-like inner chamber where the sounds of clicking scissors and crafty chatter could be heard, and a brocade bench encircled a central pillar adorned with embroidery hoops, scissors, and fringing in golden tones:

I couldn't resist asking Hannah to snap me inside the tent, resplendent in my embroidery sampler-print dress worn specially for the occasion!

Outside The Unfinishable, but inside one of Ally Pally's many exhibition halls, we encountered the first exhibit; Mining A Golden Seam (gold was to be a recurrent theme of the show, and of my subsequent purchases!)

Participants in this exhibit had chosen everything from treasured family memories to Britain's coal mining heritage as their subject matter.

Next up on our whirlwind tour was the Mr X Stitch exhibit. This was a surreal experience, for me, at least; I'd spoken to Mr X Stitch (aka Jamie) via email, but this was my first time meeting the online embroidery community's kingpin in person. His stand was masterfully curated, which was no less than I would expect from Jamie!

This piece was by multi-talented artist Penny Nickels. Both the embroidery and lace border was created by Penny herself. The piece reads "Women Rise Up" in U.S. Sign Language.

A segment of the show which was of particular interest to me was the Royal School of Needlework's exhibit.

I found it almost unbelievable that human beings, and not machines, produced this needlework, particularly the whitework below:

I will definitely be looking into taking a course at the Royal School.

The darkest exhibit we saw had an Alice In Wonderland theme, which is arguably quite a dark theme to begin with! It was made even more so through the incorporation of bones and voodoo references into the set and costume design.

The pack of cards were bone juju dolls:

Fabric was slashed, and burnt or rusted:

The Queen of Heart's robes were adorned with bones and pins:

Bone and turquoise crowns hung from the ceiling over invisible heads:

The attention to detail and complete (re)imagining of Wonderland was astounding:

On the other side of the exhibit, the tone was slightly lighter, but no less surreal:

The place settings for the Mad Hatter's Tea Party were complete with totally impractical twisty dotty forks!

This clever exhibit cast words on the wall spun from circular drilled and threaded disks of clear plastic:

A trend I noticed at the show was pieces that played with transparency and opacity and incorporated words into their design, suspended or woven in by almost invisible gossamer threads:

One of the simplest pieces on display was this broken plate (accompanied by a broken teacup) stitched back together with gold (again!) thread:

Due to my interests, my work, and how I myself came to embroidery, I couldn't not include this piece in my review:

Simple, profound, and beautiful.

I heartily agree with the sentiment this exquisite blackwork expresses:

Alongside the blackwork were some intriguingly experimental (not to mention highly accomplished) student pieces:

Hannah's favourite piece of the show was one which was delicate in technique, but dense in concept. Named Team Spirit, the piece was an investigation into the drinking habits (and drinking culture) of young women. The piece told the narrative of a young women's passage through young adult life, chronicled in social situations involving alcohol. The piece resonated deeply with both Hannah and I.

This subject matter was executed incredibly intricately in miniscule stitches on a white cotton hand-sewn umbrella (presumably meant to represent a cocktail umbrella, or the deluge of alcohol young women are confronted with).

There was a huge amount of information and story to the piece, but it wasn't overwhelmed by this.

One of the most interesting things about the piece was the contrast between the alcohol brands, what these brands were meant to represent, and the anonymous character's private feelings and experiences:

The artist, Caren Garfen, even stitched synonyms for "drunk" into the umbrella's lace trim! 

I told you Hannah liked it!

Hannah and I will soon be releasing a zine for purchase, named Stitch Witches; an embroidering girl gang's explorations of body positivity, feminism, oddities of modern society, and vaguely occult themes! Watch this space, and "like" us on Facebook.